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Interview with Ted Lemon, Nominated for Outstanding Wine, Beer, Spirits Professional

Alyssa Haak

April 30, 2015

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Ted Lemon, founder of Littorai Wines, has worked at wineries the world over, running a Burgundy estate (as the first American to do so) and consulting in New Zealand. His breadth of experience and passion for ethically growing and sourcing his ingredients make him a strong nominee for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. We spoke to him about the naming of his vineyard, the impact of the California drought, and more.

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JBF: Among your 2015 releases, what are you most excited about?

Ted Lemon: All of the vineyard-designated 2013 Pinot Noirs. They have muscle, grip, and a sense of place. Pretty is not the descriptor I would use.

JBF: Littorai means “coasts” in Latin. What’s the story behind this name?

TL: In 1993, [my wife] Heidi and I did not have the money to afford a trademark, so we needed something that was sufficiently obscure that no one would trademark it until we could afford to do so ourselves. Littor is a Latin root meaning “the coast.” Ai is a Greek plural. Hence, “the coasts"—where the fruit comes from.

JBF: We read that you’ve worked at estates in Burgundy and consulted at wineries from Oregon to New Zealand. What practices have you adopted from these past experiences?

TL: Love and cherish the earth. Farm the land, not the crop. It will talk to you.

JBF: You are a longtime champion of sustainability. Are there any recently implemented or planned sustainable practices at your winery that you can tell us about?

TL: Our most recent additions are small herds of cattle and sheep. We are increasingly growing a portion of our cover crops from our own seed bank.

JBF: How has the California drought or climate change affected you or other winemakers you know?

TL: The winds of change are blowing. It is too early to tell whether we are truly entering a new era or not. The drought is clear, but how much it is related to climate change is a subject of debate. With water scarce, it is causing all of us to carefully rethink how we manage and allocate that precious resource. In some instances, the effects are minor, in others more dramatic.  

JBF: You and your wife spent a year traveling along the West Coast looking for the perfect spot to start your winery. What was it about your chosen site that spoke to you at the time?

TL: Our winery site came much later. We chose what we call “the true north coast,” meaning western Sonoma and Mendocino counties because of the extraordinary geologic diversity of the region.

JBF: Who are some other winemakers in your area whom you admire?

TL: There are many, and not just the winemakers, but the vineyard managers also: David Hirsch [of Hirsch Vineyards], Vanessa Wong [of Peay Vineyards], Eric Sussman [of Radio-Coteau], Mike Benziger [of Benziger Family Wines], John Raytek [of Ceritas Wines], Fred Sherrer [of Sherrer Winery], I could go on and on.

Alyssa Haak is a freelance writer in New York City.