Larry Stone’s Lingua Franca

Larry Stone’s Lingua Franca

Larry Stone is amongst the most accomplished wine persons around.

A virtuoso in every sense of the word, he became a master Sommelier when there were but a handful in the US and then quickly won the World’s Best Sommelier competition in Paris.

He went on to develop the groundbreaking lists at legendary San Francisco restaurant Rubicon and Daniel Boulud’s temple to gastronomy Daniel.

In 1979, he judged at the coming-out event for the pioneers of Oregon wine, a tasting of the Enological Society of the Pacific Northwest.

In 1980, he assisted the great André Tchelistcheff and Allen Shoup in determining blends at Chateau Ste. Michelle.

He dined with Julia Child and Angelo Pellegrini, he flew on the Concorde delivering lectures on Bordeaux.

Oh, and he kicked Madonna out of the dining room at Seattle’s Four Seasons Olympic back in her Material Girl era for harassing an older couple who were regulars. This is in no way an exhaustive list.

A life filled with so many accolades would give most folks big heads, and rightfully so.

But that's not Larry’s way.

From my personal experience and from conversations I’ve had with some of his proteges, the one thing they all stress is just how kind and generous he is. They praise his hard work, his powerful intellect, and his willingness to help talented hardworking folks get a leg up.

Larry was one of the first to make the exodus to the Willamette Valley. There he partnered with Dominique Lafon and developed Evening Lands, where he served as president.

Now run by (arguably his most famous protege) Rajat Parr, Evening Lands has effortlessly married the unique and extraordinary raw material of the Willamette Valley with the generational knowledge and exacting winemaking of Burgundy. 

Early on at Evening Lands, Larry had his eye on the property directly across the road. Before wine was a thing in Eola-Amity Hills, it was mostly populated by religious groups who had moved there to get away from what they viewed as a corrupt society.

In fact, the property that Larry would eventually buy and turn into Lingua Franca was owned by the relatives of one of the original religious leaders in the area.

Many viewed wine and alcohol in general as sinful and weren't too keen on watching their property turn into a vineyard. After years of back and forth Larry eventually won them over.

That was 2012 and the original idea was to sell the grapes.

With so much to be proud of, Larry didn't feel as though he was up for taking on the daunting effort, both financially and physically, of building up a winery from scratch.

But Dominique Lafon was sure that this property was capable of producing world-class wines and he insisted that Larry make his own wine from the property. They partnered up and they were off again.

Vines were planted and eventually a winery was built. Not expecting anything special from these vines in their first decade, Dominique and Larry were both surprised when their first vintage turned out to be exceptional.

Early on, winemaking responsibilities were handed over to Lafon’s protege, Thomas Savre, with Lafon consulting.

The wines have continued to evolve and are now perhaps the best at balancing the rich fruit and volcanic minerality of Oregon with the elegant structure and savoury qualities one associates with Burgundy. 

Lingua Franca’s home vineyard, the 66-acre LS Vineyard, is situated on Lone Star Road next door to two iconic vineyard sites in the Eola-Amity Hills: Seven Springs and Lone Star Vineyard.

These are amongst Oregon's small collection of “Grand Cru” vineyards and while it makes sense that they are all right next to each other it's still surprising. It's like when you go to Burgundy for the first time and realize that Richebourg abuts Romanee Conti and La Romanee.

The site is rich in Jory, Jory-Geldermann, and Nekia soil, and the vineyard is a combination of 18 different Dijon clones and heritage clones and rootstock, sourced from specific vineyards when possible.

The parameters here are perfect: eastern exposure, morning sun, moderate cooling winds, slopes of 12-20% throughout the vineyard, and excellent drainage. 

Most of the property was planted with Pinot Noir because no one thought much about Oregon Chardonnay in 2012.

That has since changed dramatically in no small part because of Evening Lands and to many wine folks, Oregon competes shoulder to shoulder with Burgundy and California.

The Chardonnay is planted in the shallow soil and much of it is dry-farmed with the roots working their way into cracks in the lava beds below.

The high mineral content and low vigor creates savory yet delicate Pinot Noirs that are both complex and worthy of many years in the cellar but are magical upon release. 

If you have any specific questions about any of these wines, please shoot me an email. I have many notes that I took from speaking to Larry and would love to share anything I’ve gleaned from him.

 

Lingua Franca, Willamette Valley Chardonnay “AVNI”, 2018

The glass explodes with aromas of pear, tangerine and jasmine and with a light dusting of crushed rocks. Fresh and penetrating on the palate with flavors of citrus and orchard fruit with very transparent mineral notes and just a touch of fresh cream. Lots of nervy energy with just a touch of tangerine blossom through the finish. 

Lingua Franca, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir “AVNI”, 2018

With the 2018 vintage the Svni Pinit has come into its own. More structured and layered, supple fruit than previous vintage this expressive incredibly seductive rose petal wet stone, and red cherry with fine-grained tannins and an earthy mineral spice. A vibrant with loads of freshness.

Lingua Franca, Eola-Amity Hills Estate Chardonnay, 2018

The 2018 Lingua Franca Estate Chardonnay aroma is a combination of creamy lemon custard, grapefruit zest, jasmine and vanilla. While this is richly textured and layered, it is still lively and bright, lifted by its underlying energy. 

Lingua Franca, Eola-Amity Hills Estate Pinot Noir, 2018

If there is a signature to the wines of Lingua Franca, it’s the intense mineral core beautifully represented in the estate bottling. From the estate's best performing blocks of this is all structure and regiment. The fruit is a perfect balance between black and red fruit with plenty of raspberry and black plum along with a bit of blueberry all tinged with a focused mierality and notes of freshly cut violets. This is drinking beautifully now and will continue to do so through the end of this decade.

Lingua Franca, Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir “The Plow”, 2018

This is as always Lingua Franca most densely layered wine and the 2018 is no exception. As expressive as this wine is it gives up nothing in elegance. Raspberry, red currant and black plum join black tea, rose petal and fresh herb all backgrounded by the estate's signature stony minerality. While lush and rich in its youth there is a lot of tension and that concentration will serve it well through a decade of cellaring

Lingua Franca, Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir “Mimi’s Mind”, 2018

The most lifted and focused of the estate's Pinots, the 2018 Mimi’s Mind is spectacular. When you first pull the cork the wine is a bit reticent. This quickly disappears and dizzying kaleidoscopes of aroma and flavors reveal themselves. Fresh Mediterranean herbs, and floral notes of rose petal and violet, rich mulberry, red cherry, raspberry, and aromatic spices such as cinnamon, vanilla and anise. The wine is rocky and angular in its youth but begins to harmonize with some decanting and/or cellaring. The wine will become creamier highlighting deep fruit, spice and mineral qualities as it shed its youthful fruit.  Always been their most acclaimed Pinot, the 2018 is perhaps the best yet.