Small is always better for artisanal U.S. winemaker

Tue Jan 19, 2010 1:30am EST
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By Miral Fahmy

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Ask most people if they've heard of California's Littorai wines and they're likely to say no, but that doesn't bother owner and winemaker Ted Lemon.

The state of California produces a third more wine than Australia, accounting for the vast majority of American wine production and is home to more than 1,200 wineries that range from big name corporates such as E. & J. Gallo Winery and Robert Mondavi to smaller, boutique outfits.

Family-owned Littorai is one of those small winemakers, but perhaps what sets it apart is Lemon's determination to stay small and produce wines that he and his family like to drink, even though they are very different from the California norm.

"We produce around 4,000 cases and we have no intention to grow beyond that. We can't manage it as a family otherwise," he told reporters during a recent trip to Singapore to promote the artisanal wine in Asia.

Calling his philosophy to winegrowing "profoundly French and profoundly Burgundian," Lemon said he expected his clients to understand that fine wine is not a commodity that can be cranked out to satisfy demand.

For that reason, most of his clients are sommeliers, rather than mass-market retailers, which helped the company achieve flat sales last year despite the economic recession that hit many restaurants and beverage firms hard.

"We concentrate entirely on producing fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If we find vineyards that have exciting potential, we will add them to the family. If we find nothing new to excite us, we simply won't grow. If we're dissatisfied with the quality of the fruit at any time, we won't produce it," he said.

While most California wineries produce "New World" wines with high alcohol content and strong flavors from very ripe fruit, Lemon said Littorai was out to make "elegant, delicate wines, not for competitions, ratings or trends."   Continued...