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A New Winery at the Starting Gate

Larry Stone's Lingua Franca Oregon Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays look promising
Larry Stone is developing a 66-acre vineyard and 18,000-case winery for Lingua Franca.
Photo by: Harvey Steiman
Larry Stone is developing a 66-acre vineyard and 18,000-case winery for Lingua Franca.

Posted: Oct 11, 2016 10:03am ET

Longtime top sommelier and winery consultant Larry Stone told me his Lingua Franca Vineyard covered 66 acres in Willamette Valley. But when I visited last week, I was still unprepared for the size of Lingua Franca's long, low winery adjacent to it. Still a construction zone, the 18,000-case facility is big for Oregon, where they usually count Pinot Noir labels in the hundreds of cases.

Our drive on Hopewell Road passed several well-known vineyards on the eastern side of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, including Elton, Domaine Serene's Jerusalem Hill and Argyle's Lone Star. The striking new structure, designed by celebrated Portland architect Laurence Ferar, sits roadside. The new vineyard climbs up the hill behind it, tucked between Lone Star and Evening Land's Seven Hills. These places produce some of Oregon's best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

Stone made his name as an influential sommelier and managed wine companies for Francis Ford Coppola and Augustin Huneeus in California before deciding to return to his Pacific Northwest roots. He sold his Napa Valley home, moved his family to Willamette Valley, and snatched up Dominique Lafon, who had been consulting with Evening Land, as consulting winemaker.

The debut 2015s, made at the Coelho winery from grapes purchased from nine sites for Chardonnay and nine for Pinot Noir, are set for release next year. The largest bottlings are called Avni, Stone's ancestral family name (it means "of stone," he says). The Chardonnay (800 cases) is taut, focused, steely and long, with definite mineral character informing the citrus flavors. A prototype blend of the Pinot Noir (760 cases) is light and silky, with red berry and cherry notes, and a hint of mineral. Both displayed long and vivid finishes. They are priced at $40 each.

Rather than the usual lineup of single-vineyard wines, Stone and his onsite winemaker, Thomas Savre, made small blends with fanciful names. As we tasted through the wines, some vineyards showed similar characteristics to others," Stone explains. "We put those together."

Tasting from barrel, the Sisters Chardonnay showed a caressing silkiness and lemon marmalade notes. Among Pinot Noirs, I liked TNC ("tongue in cheek"), in which a peppery edge enhanced raspberry and pomegranate flavors, finishing deftly.

The estate vineyard produced 65 tons this year. A sample, fresh from the press, showed gorgeous balance, vivid flavor, tension and delicacy. That seems to be the style Lingua Franca is going for.

The winery is much bigger than Lingua Franca needs, a decision Stone's business partner David Honig (a bankruptcy attorney) thumbs-upped at a cost of $5.2 million. "It's built to be large enough to handle the maximum the vineyard can produce," Stone says.

Meanwhile, four startups are renting some of the extra space. "We realized there's no really good custom-crush facility in this part of the valley," he adds.

Stainless steel fermentors were installed to handle this vintage. Next up: more than a dozen concrete tanks for future vintages. Quite a few winemakers are gravitating toward these, which they believe enhance minerality and mouthfeel.

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