10.17.2011  
 

Lasseter Family Premieres First Wines

Noted film family rolls out red blends and rosé wines from Sonoma wine estate

 
by Kate Lavin
 
Lasseter Family Winery
 
The cellar at Lasseter Family Winery was built to accommodate a case production of up to 6,000 cases per year.
Glen Ellen, Calif.—Academy Award-winning animator John Lasseter has directed and produced dozens of films, but lately he’s been involved in a different kind of release: a line of Sonoma County wines. Nine years after John and his wife Nancy Lasseter first bought the Glen Ellen, Calif., property once inhabited by Grand Cru Winery, they held an unveiling Oct. 14 to showcase the results of years of work they’ve put into cleaning up the 95-acre ranch and remodeling the winery where they produce Lasseter Family Winery’s red and rosé blends.

The back story
According to Nancy Lasseter, Friday’s launch was years in the making. In 1992 the former engineer at Apple Inc. moved with her husband John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, and their four sons (there are now five) to Sonoma, Calif., where on a whim, Nancy participated in an amateur grape-harvesting and winemaking session. Returning home, she told her husband, “You would love this.” Soon the couple began making wine with friends, marking the transition from wine enthusiasts to winemakers.

Ten years later, the couple bought the property now known as Lasseter Family Winery. The site, once part of a large Spanish land grant, has been home to a winery since 1894 and a modern winery since 1970, according to winemaker Julia Iantosca. However, the remainder of the historic property was in such poor condition when the Lasseters acquired it that they could not put it to use. Rather, they built a new, clean and modern facility in the footprint of the earlier Grand Cru structure.

Currently, 28 acres are planted to winegrapes and another 8 acres have been identified as plantable. Old vine Zinfandel grows in a 1.25-acre parcel planted in 1918. Cellarmaster Bart Hansen said he expects it to be included in the final wine in the Lasseter portfolio, which now includes three red blends and a rosé made of Syrah, Mourvédre and a bit of Grenache.

“They’re dedicated to making the blends,” Hansen said, noting that there are no single-varietal wines in the Lasseter Family offerings.

The Lasseters planted the Rhône varieties on their property after Nancy fell in love French rosés during a trip to Provence. She told Wines & Vines that the bottles she sampled there served as a model for Enjoué, Lasseter’s $24/bottle rosé. “It’s not a byproduct of red wine,” she said. “It’s intentional.”

Lasseter Family Winery
 
The Lasseters transitioned their traditionally farmed vineyards to organic.

Clean water
One of the biggest projects the family took on was dredging a pond located about 300 yards south of the crush pad. Years of neglect had caused the pond to fall into disrepair, with the body of water eventually taking on a purple hue. The new owners excavated a massive amount of silt from the pond; created a closed-aeration system including a creek that runs from the winery to the pond, and stocked it with bass and trout.

“This is a labor of love,” Nancy said of the restoration project. “We use it to frost protect the vineyard.”

The Lasseters also began using organic farming practices in the vineyards and established an insectary. Students from nearby Dunbar Elementary School helped release beneficial insects into their new habitat: Kindergarteners handled ladybugs, while sixth graders asked to tackle the “assassin bugs,” otherwise known as preying mantis pods.

In the cellar
The Lasseters also brought on Iantosca, the veteran winemaker whose previous credits include Lambert Bridge, William Wheeler (now part of DeLoach) and Stevenot Vineyards. The  license allows output of more than 100,000 cases, although the winery currently produces 1,200 cases annually.

“They want to be an estate winery, so that’s where we’ll stay,” Hansen said of the 6,000-case production capacity the winery is equipped to handle.

Currently, the Lasseters only use a portion of their crop as well; Arrowood and Imagery Winery buy the remainder.

Iantosca said that harvesting half the crop for the rosé program helps the rest to ripen. Prior to recent rains, the vineyard crew harvested some Syrah, Grenache and Mourvédre for the Lasseter rosé, as well as some Malbec. Hansen said that the sugars were about 23°-23.5° Brix; he and Iantosca would like to see the rest of the fruit reach 24.5° Brix before bringing it in. “It’s not that it isn’t sweet enough,” he said. “It’s an issue of maturity.”

The tasting room at Lasseter Family Winery is not yet open to the public, but the winery’s online shop is live at lasseterfamilywinery.com.

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