The wines of Littorai
One of California's leading producers of Pinot Noir


Ted Lemon, with finger pointing, pouring his wines at the International Pinot Noir celebration


Littorai was founded back in 1993 by Ted Lemon and his wife Heidi, and makes serious expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from selected vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino.

The gravity-flow winery, completed in 1998, is environmentally sensitive, built of straw bales, with all the waste being recycled. The 30 acre property surrounding it (the Pivot vineyard) is farmed biodynamically, and is self-sustaining. Littorai have two of their own vineyards and also lease two others, as well as having some long term contracts. Production is 4–6000 cases annually. In 1996/7 Ted first came into contact with biodynamics, and began farming this way in 1999.

Ted Lemon

Ted has extensive experience in Europe. He began by studying Enology at the Universite de Bourgogne, followed by spells working at a number of Burgundy properties, including Dujac, De Villaine, Roumier, Parent and Bruno Clair. Indeed. One of his claims to fame is that he was the first American ever hired as a winemaker and vineyard manager of a Burgundian estate at Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault—this was when Ted was in his mid-20s. As a result of his experience here, and also later experience gained back in California, he has become a thoughtful, talented winemaker.

Ted makes wine pretty naturally, but wouldn’t describe his wines as ‘natural’ wines. ‘If one is to claim to make wines which are reflective of a site, then logically the less input in the winery the better,’ he says. ‘Over the years I have become willing to take greater and greater risks in pursuing this passion.’ He likens interventional moments in the winery to filters on a camera. With each filter the view of the vineyard changes. At first the change is subtle but when the filters are stacked one upon the other, the vineyard withdraws, becomes unfocused and finally is completely unrecognizable. Only the winemaking process remains.’ 

In 2002 he began his involvement with celebrated Central Otago (NZ) newcomer Burn Cottage. Ted was involved laying out the blocks and matching the soils with the right roostock and clone combinations. He did a lot of tastings with owner Marquis Sauvage. ‘One of the big discussions was whether we acidify or not,’ says Ted. Acidification tends to be the rule in Central Otago. ‘By then at Littorai we had seen the effects of biodynamic farming. If we farm using biodynamics, I can’t see why we can’t avoid acidification.’ This might mean making some compromises on whole bunch (this tends to raise pH a bit because of potassium from the stems). At Littorai, decisions on whole bunch tend to be made with pH in mind, and typically Ted uses 0–30%.

Ted is a brave winemaker, in that he’s not scared of high pH. ‘I’m comfortable up to pH 3.9 out of the fermenter, and they end up at pH 3.8. We have made multiple wines at pH 3.8 and they’ve been great 15 years later. People are too scared of high pH.’ He thinks that for Central Otago, if you can get good maturity at lower Brix, the acidification is unnecessary. But he won’t tolerate brett, which he thinks makes all wines taste the same. If he gets a bretty barrel, he’ll sell the wine off and destroy the barrel.    

The Littorai wines are superb, but they’re hard to get hold of (made in small quantities, plus high demand), and they aren’t cheap. So it’s rare to find them outside the USA, but they’re well worth seeking out. As well as making his own wines, Ted consults to others, most notably new superstar biodynamic Central Otago winery Burn Cottage.


Littorai Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Very fresh, pure and lemony with subtle nuttiness and a fine, spicy dimension. Lovely balance here with some notes of white peach. 93/100 03/14

Littorai B.A. Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Textured, rich and refined with some spice, as well as subtle nut and toast notes. Broad pear and peach fruit showing richness and refinement. Very stylish with great intensity. A lovely integrated, balanced wine in a rich style. 94/100 03/14

Littorai Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Pale-ish colour. Supple and fresh with sweet red cherries. Lovely fine texture here: rich yet fresh with nice structure, and with a remarkable softness. Really refined, elegant and delicious, showing fine minerality in a textured way. 94/100 03/14

Littorai The Pivot Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
This is the home site, where the winery is, purchased in 2003. Beautifully perfumed with sweet cherries and some spice on the nose. Lovely warm, richly textured palate with sweet cherries and plums, as well as subtle herbal notes. Mouthfilling and concentrated with fine-grained structure. Stylish and generous but still fresh, with a vital quality to it. 94/100 03/14

Littoria The Pivot Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Sonoma Coast, California
Floral cherry aromatics: subtly sappy but ripe. The palate is soft, smooth, broad and textured with lovely purity and finesse. Amazing mouthfeel, with a silkiness to it. 96/100 01/14

Littorai Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Pale in colour. Fresh aromatic sweet red cherry fruit leads to a silky, fresh, sappy palate that just about defines the term ‘elegant’ as it relates to Pinot. So beautiful, pure and refined. Stunning. 96/100 03/14

Littorai Hirsch Vineyard 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Quite structured and dense with rich black cherry and raspberry fruit. Fine, but with grippy tannins. Primary, dense, vivid and full with lovely structure and great potential. 94/100

Littorai The Haven Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Sweet, fine and lush with pure cherry and spice on the nose. Primary and seductive. The palate is sweet, textured and supple with nice purity. Lovely broad flavours here. Concentrated, seamless and really pretty. 95/100

Littorai Cerise Pinot Noir 2006 Anderson Valley
Fresh, elegant and spicy, this wine has some beautifully focused cherry fruit with nice spicy structure. There’s some meatiness here, but it’s remarkably light on its feet. Serious effort. 93/100 02/10

Littorai Havens Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 Sonoma Coast
Smooth, pure and elegant with wonderfully fine cherry fruit. Silky structure and a lovely texture. 94/100 02/10

Littorai Mays Canyon Pinot Noir 2006 Russian River Valley, Sonoma
Sweet aromatic nose. The palate is focused and fresh with nice definition to the expressive cherryish fruit. There is lovely structure and good acidity too – a well balanced, complex Pinot Noir. 93/100 (08/08)

Littorai Havens Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 Sonoma Coast
Very fresh cherry and herb nose with some attractive green notes plus hints of tar. The palate is warm with rounded, spicy character and a lovely expressive personality. Needs some time to integrate properly. 92/100 (08/08)

Wines tasted as indicated (month/year)  
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