“The savvy winemaker”
An Interview with Lisanne Leask
By Lisa Gmur, CSW
Long Meadow Ranch is home to bees for honey, egg laying flocks of chickens including the famed Rhode Island Reds. There is also an organic fruit and vegetable garden with over 250 different varieties.
They also practice what they call Full Circle Farming, using three different incarnations of what they grow; Long Meadow Ranch is very much about wine too.
I reached out to their winemaker Lisanne Leask to talk wine, and as we found out, she is the force behind her 100% Rutherford Estate Organic Sauvignon Blanc program which is why she is also known as “The Savvy Winemaker”.
Pictured Left: Lisanne Leask, Director of Winemaking, Long Meadow Ranch
So Santa Cruz, huh? Not a bad place to grow up.
I was born there and had never moved until I went to college at UC Davis.
A true California girl. Did you want to be a surfer? Movie star? Or maybe Governor?
I wanted to be a chef. I loved cooking and growing my own food in the garden. My parents were very supportive and sent me to cooking classes at Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola. Gayle Ortiz and her husband Joe had these classes where they showed us how to make our own braided breads and amazing pasta dinners.
I loved the idea of spending my time and energy making something that I could then share with my friends and family. I also admired Gayle’s amazing garden, and how she used it to grow foods for her wonderful meals. We had raised beds at home, so my family would plan out what we would grow based on what we liked to eat.
Even today, I still love going into the back yard and seeing what we have growing that I can add to my dinner.
As I grew up, I realized that the day-to-day life of a chef was not for me. I do get to make wine and now olive oil that I share with my friends and family along with the food that I still love to cook.
Love this! So, when did the whole wine thing come into the picture?
I went to UC Davis as an undeclared Biology major after learning I loved biology starting in 7th grade. I really had no idea when I went to college how vast that subject was. For one of my general education classes, I took Intro to Winemaking. It sounded interesting and was a really popular course.
I quickly realized that winemaking might combine my love of science with making something I could share with people. I got great advice, which was to take some time off and work a harvest. I took the fall of my junior year off and moved to Napa to work at Stags’ Leap Winery.
I was completely inexperienced, but I was hooked! I had never physically worked as hard in my life, but I loved it. I had great people I worked with that were always willing to teach me and help me succeed.
You’ve been at Long Meadow Ranch for several years now. What’s the most important thing you would like us to know about the winery?
Our motto here at Long Meadow Ranch is “Excellence Through Responsible Farming” and we think about all aspects of what we do through this lens.
It starts with the land and stewardship of that land; all of our vineyards are certified organic and farmed by our fulltime crew.
Many of our crew have been with us for over a decade and their hard work is what makes exceptional fruit. Our job as winemakers is to turn that beautiful fruit into great wine.
Let’s focus on the Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc. What makes Rutherford such a fabulous place for growing Sauvignon Blanc?
Our Rutherford Estate is in the middle of the Napa Valley, near the edge of influence of the San Pablo Bay. The cool night air and foggy mornings preserve acidity in the grapes; but the fog recedes early in the day to allow plenty of sunshine and warmth for ripening.
How does it compare to other famous Sauvignon Blanc regions of the world like Bordeaux and Christ Church, New Zealand?
Distinctive wines often get their character from the terroir, and Long Meadow Ranch’s SB is no different. Our vineyard practices and winemaking style is focused on preservation of the fresh fruit aromatics and flavors imparted by our vineyard.
This includes picking grapes within the full spectrum of ripeness – our early picks give our wines wonderful lemongrass and lime zest notes, while later picked grapes sing with grapefruit, guava and lychee.
What are the Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc vineyards like, and do you enjoy walking them?
I love walking our Rutherford Estate. It is right in the heart of the Napa Valley so you are flanked by mountains on either side. It feels like you are in your own world.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes are so tasty and refreshing. They are fruit forward and zesty with acid to balance the sweetness. I love doing SB vineyard checks.
What makes Long Meadow Ranch Rutherford SB stand out?
It starts in the vineyard and our crew’s long history caring for it. Our vineyard teams care and attend to the vines many times throughout the year. They prune, then sucker and tuck the canes into the trellis, they also hand harvest the vines at night.
Our team knows those vines so well by caring for them year after year. They see the quality of the fruit and can adjust pruning the following year for better balance. All of these practices allow us to make outstanding wine year after year.
How often do you barrel taste the wine?
For LMR Sauvignon Blanc, it’s only 4-5 months from pick to bottle, so we have to work quickly. While fermenting in stainless steel tanks, we taste and smell the wine daily. Once fermentation is complete, we taste the wine during any wine movement such as racking or blending. Of course, we taste once more before bottling.
What food pairings do you like with the Sauvignon Blanc?
I love our Sauvignon Blanc along with fish tacos. Imagine wild caught California Halibut on fresh corn tortillas, home-grown pico de gallo and a zesty lime chipotle crema. The wine emphasizes the lime and adds another dimension of brightness to the dish!
Yum! I am pretty sure we’ve completely covered the LMR Savvy. Well besides talking about what you personally love about it.
I love Sauvignon Blanc for the aromatics and the grapes themselves are so yummy, I don’t tire of them.
How about the other classics?
I love Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for their versatility – sparkling, elegant, over the top – they can do it all. I love Merlot for its versatility and texture and Cabernet Sauvignon for its strength and structure.
rutherford sauvignon blanc
An excellent Rutherford growing season produced lovely uniform fruit that allowed for a relatively brief harvest period and resulted in an outstanding wine full of concentration and complexity.
A mouthwatering acidity adds energy to elegant aromas of lemongrass, grapefruit, Bearss lime, honeydew melon, and kiwi that were retained in the precision of a slow cold fermentation.”
Do you have an ‘Aha’ moment for wine? Something that completely made you go, yeah!
It was probably 11 hours into a shift during my first harvest, scooping heavy pomace and I was still so happy to be making wine.
This job challenges you in ways you don’t expect yourself to succeed. Every vintage and every wine are new challenges. You can never get bored.
Beautifully said. Okay, so now let’s talk closures. Do you prefer stelvin or cork to seal your wines?
This depends on the wine. Freshness and preserving the quality of the aromatics and flavors of the Sauvignon Blanc are a top goal. Stelvin screw caps help us keep our wines as close as possible to when we bottled them.
Cork closure on the SB would allow for more oxygen to come into contact with the wine which would lead to a loss of freshness.
Other wines, like our red wines, are made to age and change with that small amount of oxygen that goes through the cork over time.
Perfectly explained and we are right back to Sauvignon Blanc! How do you feel about wine kegs?
I love kegs especially for crisp, fresh white wines. The only wine LMR packages in kegs right now is our Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc. There is a huge advantage to both restaurants and customers when it comes to kegged SB.
For the restaurant, there is the advantage of being able to serve many glasses from one container, a lot less waste. For the customer, they get a wine that is consistently fresh from the first glass to the last. Kegs allow the restaurant to protect the wine from oxygen, so that it retains its vibrance as if it were a newly opened bottle. Kegs allow me to know that each glass of LMR Sauvignon Blanc that the customer is getting is the same as when we put it into the keg.
Another great advantage to kegs, is in their sustainability. The keg is returned, washed and refilled, providing an environmental benefit over bottles. It uses a lot less resources in packaging materials as well as transportation. All around it is a great way to get our SB out to people.
Well, I am a huge fan of the Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc. So, I have thoroughly enjoyed our chat. Of course, I am huge fan of the whole lineup, especially the Chardonnay and Merlot. Maybe next time we talk about them.
I would love to do this again. Thank you!