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Wine Cellar: Master Sommelier Richard Betts on "Feral" Chardonnay

A Feral Chardonnay?
A Feral Chardonnay?
Flickr user prayitno

We've long been keen on winemaker Greg La Follette's Pinot Noir style, his bagpipe back story and the Friday night Bingo shirts he sports at wine tasting events. He's also weathered the wine business long enough that he doesn't worry about telling the whole wine truth, and nothing but the truth (so help his marketing department). Consider the label description on a recently released 2010 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay from his namesake winery: "Intriguing, almost feral aromas over bright, crisp structure."

"Wild, animal, funky, bloody, the smell of the bear cage at the zoo -- all of it," said Richard Betts when we asked him to clarify the definition (Betts is one of 120 or so Master Sommeliers in the U.S.; he also happens to be a winemaker and distiller). "Feral implies the presence of things that some technocrat winemakers call faults but romantic wine lovers often find full of allure," he continues. "I'll be amongst the lovers." [Note: Betts is speaking generally about the word feral; he did not taste La Follette's wine.]

But this is Chardonnay, not a wine like Pinot Noir that we often think of as having occasional foraged funk tendencies.

A pretty fantastic, pause-worthy Sonoma Chardonnay expression at that. "As to using [feral] on a Chardonnay label, it sounds a little hopeful and likely dreamt up by the marketing department," says Betts.

We had a similar initial reaction, which prompted us to clarify the definition with Betts and also check in with the La Follette folks. They assured us that the wine label descriptions are "All Greg!"

Greg La Follette Tasting Wine With Assistant Winemaker Simone Sequeria
Greg La Follette Tasting Wine With Assistant Winemaker Simone Sequeria
La Follette Winery

"Without knowing which specific wine... the [feral] exception would be someone who is truly doing something different than most Chardonnay, like oxidizing it or allowing tons of botrytis to occur, etc.," continues Betts.

An exception, perhaps, like a winemaker tackling Chardonnay who has a reputation for Pinot Noir complexity. A winemaker like La Follette. Either way, we'll leave you to decide whether this particular wine truly has feral qualities, or whether it's simply an awfully good Chardonnay with a flavor profile deep within that bottle that we can't quite put a finger on. The latter description, actually, might just get us right back to "feral."

La Follette 2010 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay is available locally at LA Wine Co.


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