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Bright Noir

The coastal expression of LaRue Wines

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Halfway into a tasting of LaRue wines, I need wine charms—those shiny little baubles that are supposed to attach to the base of the glass—to tell them apart. Even the last in the lineup, typically the boldest and darkest wine of the lot, is just as luminescently raspberry-red as the first.

Winemaker Katy Wilson (pictured) makes Pinot Noir from the westernmost part of the Sonoma Coast appellation. True, her 2014 Emmaline Ann Pinot Noir winks at darker aromas of smoky oak and leather, and has the savor of lingonberry instead of cool cherry or raspberry candy. Still, light, bright Pinot Noir all around. So is this what we can expect from Pinot from this region?

Not the whole story. At a tasting of Pinot Noir from the Coastlands Vineyard, all from the same vintage but different wineries—some of which Wilson also consults for—each wine was distinct, she says, showing a range of Pinot characteristics from bright-red berries to dark, cherry-cola flavors.

The winemaker brings a lot to the barrel, says Wilson, and that's why she wanted to start her own brand, even when she's already busy making wine for a roster of other wineries, including Claypool Cellars. For LaRue, Wilson does nearly everything herself, including punch-downs and toppings. It's hard to say that any one quotidian task stamps the wine as being hers alone. But in the end it is. Content to make just 500 cases a year, Wilson says that growing a big winery with her name on it isn't the point—besides, she named LaRue after her great-grandmother, Veona LaRue, who advised Katy she could do anything she wanted in life.

Wilson wasn't sure what she wanted to do until she learned in ag 101 at Cal Poly that making wine was an option—she was in. Having grown up on a walnut orchard ("small by Central Valley standards"), Wilson is happy to go off on a tangent about nut pricing and the arcana of dairy shares with the same personable enthusiasm she brings to talking about fine wine. Although five appointments is a big week at the "fancy booze caboose," the funky tasting-room-in-a-train-car she shares with Claypool Cellars in Sebastopol, she doesn't mind showing visitors around the vineyards, and then stopping at Freestone for pastries—it's all part of what she does for her wine.

LaRue Wines, 6761 Sebastopol Ave., (Gravenstein Station), Sebastopol. Tasting by appointment, $15; vineyard tour, $45. Wines are priced at $60 to $75. 707.933.8355.

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