Great wine is made in the vineyard. Larry Stone knew he saw something special when he inspected the property in what is now home to his latest project in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This unique site combined with Larry’s 40+ years of experience and consultation by renowned winemaker Dominique Lafon, has already proven to be a winning formula for Lingua Franca Wines in its very early beginnings.
Larry Stone began his career as a Sommelier in an auspicious manner. He was just the 9th person in the United States to become a Master Sommelier and followed that up shortly thereafter becoming the 1st American to win Best International Sommelier in French Wines competition in Paris. In the mid-2000s, he left the restaurant business heading first to Napa to manage Rubicon Estate, and then to Oregon to manage Evening Land Vineyards.
While working at Evening Land in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Larry was drawn to the idea of purchasing the adjacent farm due to its proximity to Evening Land’s Seven Springs vineyard. Seven Springs has been around since the seventies demonstrating for decades that it is one of the best vineyard sites in Oregon. Larry firmly believed that because it ran contiguously from Seven Springs and contained the same terroir characteristics, the farm had the potential to be an exceptional vineyard.
He originally began to negotiate with the farm owners in 2011 to acquire the property on behalf of Evening Land. A year later, Larry left the winery and the sale never happened. Another year passed and with the farm still available for sale, Larry ended up purchasing it personally on the last day of 2012 by selling his own boutique winery in Napa Valley. In early 2013, he planted 66 acres with the intention of selling the grapes, not actually building and running a winery.
Larry planted several different Pinot Noir clones including 777, 667, 115, Wadenswil, Calera, and Pommard. He also planted east-facing in large part to take advantage of the Van Duzer corridor that creates a tunnel effect bringing in significantly cooler air coming from the west. This effect helps keep the temperatures cool and creates a significant diurnal shift of about 40-50 degrees at night which allows their wines to have a certain freshness while maintaining good acidity.
The vineyard’s soil is largely volcanic Jory with a small amount of marine sediment as well as some subseries soils including Nekia and Gelderman. These soils are characteristically shallow going right into the bedrock which allows for very good root development early on.
While at Evening Land Larry had gotten to know their consulting winemaker Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Burgundy. Dominique also saw the potential in the site and advised Larry when he purchased it that he couldn’t just have a vineyard and not make wine. Larry initially disagreed, believing 66 acres was too large a scope for him at this stage in his life. But Dominique insisted and offered to consult and help find a winemaker—the kind of help few in the wine industry would likely turn down!
They officially began working together in early 2015 and found their winemaker in Thomas Savre, a discovery of Dominique’s in Burgundy. Thomas moved to Oregon, the first harvest of Lingua Franca was in late August of that same year, and the winery was completed in 2016.
Along with their Estate Vineyard, Lingua Franca also purchases fruit from Bunker Hill Vineyard in the Salem Hills which is still part of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA but further south. The site has a higher elevation of 600 feet versus the Estate at 300 feet and its soil is made up solely of Nekia. The site is planted only to Chardonnay and while not technically owned by Lingua Franca, they consider it an Estate chardonnay because they’re have exclusive access to the vineyard and are able to control the quality of the vineyard all the way into the bottle.
Today Lingua Franca is producing 8,000-10,000 cases per year. There’s room for growth but not at the expense of maintaining quality which is the winery’s first priority. Aaron Reid, Senior Sales and Trade Specialist, tells us the sole goal for the winery is to taste the sense of place, “We’re really picky about how we pick fruit, how the farming is done and why almost all of the fruit is from our own estate. We like to be in control of the farming, it’s where good wine is made. If you have good fruit coming in, you’ll have good wine coming out.”
In the cellar, native fermentation is used for both primary and secondary malolactic fermentation and all of the whites go through a complete secondary fermentation and are oak fermented. But the amount of oak used varies quite a bit, “oak is really just a vessel for us. It’s good for oxygen exposure and helpful in fermentation, particularly for chardonnay.” says Reid adding, “we view oak as helping us unlock the truest character of what the vineyard is tasting like. We’re always aiming for balance and vineyard expression.”
What is most impressive in tasting through Lingua Franca wines is how well they are tasting at such a young age. While old vines are coveted for a reason, Lingua Franca is proving that young vineyards on great sites that are farmed well, can produce beautiful wines very young. The first few vintages provide every indication that Lingua Franca has a very long and successful future ahead.
2017 Lingua Franca Estate Chardonnay
This is the inaugural vintage of the Estate Chardonnay and is definitely a sign of things to come. The estate is planted half to cuttings from the famed Montrachet vineyard in Burgundy and half to Clone 76. Sharply focused, we pick up notes of green apple, mineral and citrus. The body is medium– and there is a bit of richness in the texture which balances nicely with the mineral and citrus elements. The result of Lingua Franca’s team blind tasting from their best barrels.
Very good+ (USD$55 at the winery)
2017 Lingua Franca Chardonnay Cher Amis
A step up in quality, this is only offered to wine club members (and is a good reason to join!). A wonderful juxtaposition of earth and mineral with richness and texture. There is a slight nutty flavour which adds to the complexity. Whole clusters are pressed and the resulting juice is aged in 30% new French oak for 10 months. The class here is unmistakable.
Excellent (USD$75 at the winery)
2017 Lingua Franca Sisters Chardonnay
From a blend of different vineyards near their estate. Showing great precision with its notes of green apple and wet stones. The body is medium and the acidity medium+. The finish is long and is punctuated with citrus and lemon peel. Slightly understated, but a beautiful wine.
Very good/Excellent (USD$90 at the winery)
2017 Lingua Franca Pinot Noir Estate
Like the Estate Chardonnay, this is a selection of the best barrels from the estate vineyard. Medium red in colour with notes of bright cherry and raspberry. On the back end we get mineral and herb notes which make for a nicely complex drink today, a feature likely to pick up prominence as the wine ages. The body is medium+ and the tannin and acidity contribute to a sense of sturdiness.
Very good/excellent (USD$55 at the winery)
2017 Lingua Franca Pinot Noir The Plow
From Block 1 found at the top of the estate, this plot was planted with cuttings from a Russian River vineyard that Larry Stone was particularly fond of. Big and structured, this is a powerful Pinot Noir that shows potential to develop for at least a decade. Black cherry fruit and lots of earth and mineral. 50% whole clusters and 12 months in barrel followed by an additional 5 months in steel tanks to allow for further development before bottling.
Excellent (USD$60 at the winery)
2017 Lingua Franca Pinot Noir La Bête
This is a Pinot that wants to make a statement! And it works. Big and powerful, this wine is easily the darkest in their line up. Made form the Calera Clone, this wine is big, powerful and “hedonistic”. But don’t go dismissing it as some sort of new world bomb. It is power and finesse aligned beautifully. The balance is precise and so the wines brawnier features do not overpower. Already complex, this wine will definitely reward several years cellaring.
Excellent+ (Wine Club Members Only)
2017 Lingua Franca Mimi’s Mind
Modern palates seeking more restraint in their wines are going to love Mimi’s. The focus here is clearly on finesse and elegance. The mineral and spice elements are right up there with the cherry and strawberry notes. There are tannins present but they are ripe and polished. A wine to sip, contemplate and sip again. La Bete is a Crossfitter, The Plow is a gymnast, and Mimi is an intellectual.
Excellent (USD$90 at the winery)
9675 Hopewell Rd. NW Salem, OR, 97304
T | 503.908.6144
E | email@example.com
The winery offers seated, communal tastings 7 days a week at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. Reservations are recommended.
November 18, 2019
These sound like wines I definitely need to seek out my next visit to OR! Thanks for the introduction!
November 18, 2019
Our pleasure Martin…terrific winemaking behind this wine and the results are already impressive!
November 17, 2019
What a magical region for wine. I casually read that he was working at Evening Land and was curious about his relationship with Rajat Parr. Raj worked for Larry at Rubicon, when he was first getting started. This nugget changed my perspective on this piece! It was wonderful to begin, but my understanding of the stature and knowledge of Mr. Stone has definitely increased, with a little perspective to another Somm I was familiar with and respected.
I adore the labels. They are simply stunning. These are wines to grab now. With his knowledge and guidance I’m sure these will be bottles that soon will become hard to obtain.
November 17, 2019
Yes, we knew he had worked with Raj and so many interesting personalities connected here. And totally agree, these wines are only going to get better and, as you say, much harder to get!
November 16, 2019
We must add this to our list!
November 16, 2019
Definitely recommend…terrific wines and only going to get better!
November 13, 2019
I am a big fan of Thomas and the wine he makes at Lingua Franca. Well done!
November 15, 2019
We can see why…what a treat it was to taste there and what a talent he is!