The Many Faces of Littorai

October 2nd 2013

Ted Lemon’s is the pensive face on the cover of Jon Bonné’s soon-to-be published book “The New California Wine.” The man behind Sonoma Coast winery Littorai has never been a poster boy before, and would rather be elbow-deep in compost than posing for a photographer.

Indeed, the New York native has never coveted the limelight, preferring to be on the farm with his family. Yet, celebrity status has sought him out. After starting out at a Burgundy domaine, Lemon has become a respected name in the wine world as a result of putting his heart, soul and mind to his soils, vines and wines.

So, who is Ted Lemon?

The pioneer

In 1984, Lemon became the first American to head a Burgundy domaine. At the tender age of 25, he was put in charge of Meursault’s Guy Roulot. After three vintages he returned to the U.S. and worked in the Napa Valley, but other plans were taking root. In 1992, he and his wife Heidi set off on a road trip to find their own patch of dirt.

“We saw extraordinary pinot noir and chardonnay all over, but when you looked at untapped potential, it came down to Sonoma Coast and the Willamette [Valley],” Lemon recalls. He chose Sonoma Coast at a time when it was “totally unknown.” Napa Valley seemed a world away, despite the short drive separating the two. Since then, Lemon has been a leading proponent of the Russian River Valley’s Hirsch Vineyard and the Anderson Valley, among others.

The farmer

Lemon has been a winemaker for most of his career, after a short stint as a care-home assistant while attempting unsuccessfully to pen a novel. Today, the title “farmer” could be added to his varied resumé. The 30-acre property outside of Sebastopol that is home to the Lemon family, the Littorai winery, and a few randy chickens, is not simply a vineyard. In fact, just three of the estate’s 30 acres are under vine. Lemon calls the property a “model farm” – a term coined in the 19th century for a new system that researched recent agricultural techniques and took into consideration the welfare of its workers.

While Lemon is not alone in wanting to develop greater diversity in vineyards, his vision of wine production harks back to times past when poly-culture was the norm. In a speech at the Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration this year, Lemon warned: “Marlborough, the Russian River, Napa Valley, Monterrey County and other regions are mono-cultural wastelands. This must not continue.”

Lemon’s farm includes 14 acres of biodynamic pasture destined for cows to make the manure for his compost, eight acres of woods and streams that will never be developed, herb gardens for his compost teas, and a restoration project aimed at re-introducing native evergreen oak grasslands.

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