Larry Stone, the influential sommelier and winery consultant, is back in Oregon, starting up his own winery. He quietly purchased a promising site in the Eola-Amity Hills and planted 66 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 2013 and will make his first wines this year for a new label, Lingua Franca.
“It means ‘honest tongue,’” Stone told Wine Spectator. “That’s a pretty good thing for a sommelier.”
The master sommelier left the restaurant business in 2006 to manage Rubicon Estate in Napa Valley, and later Evening Land Vineyards (ELV), the Oregon winery founded by Mark Tarlov. He also currently works as a roving ambassador for Huneeus Vintners, whose wines include Quintessa, Flowers, The Prisoner and two wineries in Chile.
In 2011, Stone negotiated an agreement for ELV with the Janzen family to purchase their farm adjacent to Seven Springs, ELV's home vineyard in Oregon. The owners had long refused to sell the property—where they grew prunes, cherries and Christmas trees—to other vintners who came calling.
Having grown up in Seattle, Stone knew many of the people at Pike Place Market, where the Janzens sold their products. With that history in common, he said, he was able to convince them to sell. The Janzens add that others didn’t want the whole property like Stone did.
But in January of 2012, both Stone and Tarlov were ushered out the door at ELV. The new owners never acted on the Janzen deal, and in Oct. 2012 the Janzens told Stone that they were willing to sell to him, personally. But the deal needed to be done soon.
Stone sold off his own small California winery, Sirita, and his personal wine cellar. He got relatives to invest, and two final payment installments completed the purchase in 2013.
“Selling off the wine cellar was tough for me,” Stone sighed. “The hardest was parting with my bottles of Jayer Burgundy.” His empty underground wine cellar is now a selling point for his home west of Napa, which he has put on the market so he can move his family to Oregon.
Local vintners have been salivating over the property for years. Forty acres of the site is actually an extension of La Source, the stone outcropping at the heart of Seven Springs Vineyard. The high side of the new site’s slope contains mostly Nekia soils, while Jory soils dominate farther down—both are infertile volcanic soils considered excellent for vines and few other crops.
Aside from Seven Springs, the property borders Domaine Serene's Jerusalem Hill and Argyle's Lone Star vineyards, sites that have consistently made Pinot Noirs scoring in the mid 90s on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. Domaine Drouhin's big Roserock Vineyard is also in the same neighborhood.
Stone plans to start making Lingua Franca wine this year in rented space at Coelho Winery, using purchased grapes. He expects to harvest 50 tons off 66 acres (56 of them Pinot Noir and 10 Chardonnay) in 2016 from his new property. He said he already has agreements from Chapter 24, Penner Ash and Cristom to buy grapes from the new vineyard.
Lingua Franca also reunites Stone with Dominique Lafon, the Burgundy vigneron brought in by Tarlov to consult with ELV in Oregon from its start in 2005. Stone said that Lafon, renowned for his white wines, is working with him exclusively in Oregon now. “If I had known that when I planted the vineyard,” Stone added, “I would have planted more Chardonnay.”