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Backyard Burgundy

Come for the Pinot, stay for the ring toss at La Rochelle Winery

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Chuck Easley is no Frenchman, and he's the first to admit it. So why fly the tricolor so high above a funky old truck that marks the road to—hey, isn't that the road to Kaz?

Kaz has left the building, I discovered back in 2015 when driving by this rambling little bodega tucked away off Adobe Canyon Road. For over a decade, winemaker Richard Kasmier, the Kaz, endeared visitors to his zany little winery with an ever-experimental array of varietals and blends. How could these new Francophiles follow up that act?

Enter the chicken. While I'm nosing a sample of 2016 Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay ($65) in the winery's backyard, a curious hen struts across the gravel to give me sidelong glances. The hen wants a treat—I have none but the Chardonnay, treating me to a characteristic citrus core of Bacigalupi fruit seasoned with nut oil and tropical fruit.

Though there's a perfectly comfortable tasting room inside, this is where most people like to taste, proprietor Chuck Easley explains at a rustic bar set up beside a pond teeming with koi. The pond was created by Kaz, his way of satisfying the fire department's water-storage requirements in his own style. It came in handy in October 2017, when most of the property was saved from spot fires one water bucket at a time, with help from an ember-rebuffing redwood tree that towers above a set of tables, available for seated tastings by reservation, and a verdant, if not exactly regulation-smooth lawn studded with wickets. Croquet, monsieur?

There is a Frenchman or two in the winery's history, after all: nurserymen who brought Pinot Noir cuttings to California back in 1854 and founded a wine dynasty that, long story short, spawned the La Rochelle boutique label. For the longer story, ask Chuck—though a tad mellower than the Kaz, he's full of good wine stories.

Lovers of Burgundy wine may like the house style here, too. The Pinot Noirs, from the bright and spicy 2016 van der Kamp Vineyard ($60) to the plusher 2015 El Coro Vineyard ($60), play notes of red fruit and subtle spice like variations on a theme across the palate—even the rare 2016 Pinot Meunier ($48), which Easley says is the bane of his attempt to focus on 17 different Pinot Noirs. "What they remember when they leave," he says of many visitors, "is the Pinot Meunier." That, or the chickens and the ring toss.

La Rochelle Winery, 233 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood. Daily, 11am–5pm; winter hours, closed Tuesday–Wednesday. Tasting fee, $20. 707.302.8000.

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