Serena Lourie and Alan Baker led adventurous lives even before they became partners in Cartograph Wines in 2009 and, more recently, partners in life.
Lourie grew up in a bicultural household, splitting her time between France and the United States. After attending college and beginning her career in the Washington DC area, her calling as a mental health professional led her to San Francisco. It was there, while working in Silicon Valley’s tech industry, that she developed a passion for wine.
In 2005, Baker left a successful public broadcasting career in St. Paul and came to San Francisco to learn the wine business from bottom to top. He met Lourie at a start-up winery in San Francisco called Crushpad where he launched his first commercial brand, Cellar Rat Cellars, that featured pinot noir.
In 2009, the map of their lives made a stop in Healdsburg and they began creating Cartograph Wines, currently producing about 2,300 cases with a business plan that takes it to a comfortable 5,000-5,500 per year.
While continuing to source from established vineyards in the region, Cartograph recently purchased their estate vineyard in Cotati near the Petaluma Gap in the southern Russian River Valley appellation and are now releasing the first vintages from that site.
The Cartograph Estate Vineyard falls within the Russian River Valley Neighborhood Initiative, a project that will explore the vast diversity within the prodigious appellation to determine if the distinctions between the various microclimates are worthy of official designation.
Cartograph Wines modern tasting room on Main Street in Healdsburg literally shares a wall with Valette, one of the finest restaurants in town. Starting at Cartograph, we began with a glass of 2013 Cartograph Brut Zero ($68), their first sparkling wine. Self- described “acid freaks,” Baker and Lourie like their wines bone dry and this crisp sparkler has no additions or dosage (the addition of sugar before corking). We then moved next door and assembled around a large, beautifully set table in Valette Healdsburg to pair new Cartograph releases with dishes curated by Chef Dustin Valette.
Valette, the restaurant and the person were raised in Healdsburg and enjoy showcasing local farmers and winemakers through a variety of collaborative efforts. Today, he was challenged with creating perfect food pairings with six new Cartograph releases. The first course paired the 2018 Cartograph Rose’ of Pinot Noir and Hawaiian Ahi Poke’ with partially roasted strawberries and young estate onions, garnished with dried strawberry chips, borrowed from Dustin’s daughter snack drawer.
The crisp, dry pink wine, from the estate vineyard and aged in 100 percent stainless steel, was the right choice for the melded flavor profile of the visually stunning poke’.
The next course matched two Cartograph dry whites, the 2017 Starscape Vineyard Gewürztraminer ($26) and the 2016 Green Ranch Riesling ($29) from the Mendocino Ridge appellation with a diver scallop & American caviar duo featuring one seared with passion fruit and fennel and another formed into a “ravioli” with pickled watermelon rind and seaweed.
Cooler vineyards tend to make dry fruit and these wines are fermented in Alsace yeast with no malolactic fermentation (higher acid) and controlled brix (sugar) of 22.5 percent.
The third course featured two new red Cartograph releases, the 2016 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir ($68) and 2016 Starscape Vineyard ($54) Pinot Noir, paired with a Liberty Farms duck confit “candy bar,” a coriander crusted breast with toasted oats and Goji berries, full and in a puree.
While both wines had luscious mouthfeel, the 2016 Estate Vineyard exuded intense but elegant aromas balanced by more subtle savory flavors that lingered.
The pairing concluded with the 2013 Brut Rose ($68), their other sparkling wine served with roasted quince jam, toasted brioche and salted brown butter ice cream. Dustin called the dish “bread, butter and jam” and I renamed it “heaven of earth.” Similar to the Brut Zero, the Brut Rose’ is made from chardonnay, but some pinot noir and dosage (sugar) is added at gorging to give it an arresting floral quality.
For Baker, it was a 1998 Alsace Riesling in Wisconsin, for Lourie , a Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet in Washington DC and for Dustin it was a love for bountiful Sonoma County. A confluence of journeys that were fueled by guts, passion and a desire to share their gifts.
Fortunately, they landed in Healdsburg.
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Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.