Toluca Lane: Cordon Bleu Torts? No, Indie Pinot noir!
by Amy Paul
"What do you get when you combine a lawyer and a chef?" sounds like the start to a bad lawyer joke but is in actuality the dynamic husband and wife team behind the winery Toluca Lane. Combine a Cordon Bleu chef with a writer of torts, add in a love of Burgundy and the Oregon wine country, and you get an exciting new Pinot noir maker.
Geoffrey Crowther was a public defender in LA who began making wine to ease workplace stress and Lane studied at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, later apprenticing at the luxurious Century Plaza Hotel. They met in the early 1970's at California State College just after Geoffrey returned from serving in the Army and Lane was trying to settle down after years of traveling the world as an "army brat". His sense of order and justice led him into the legal sector while Lane's creative nature led her towards the food industry.
For Geoffrey, what began as a hobby quickly became a consuming passion. In his spare time he enrolled in enology and viticulture classes at the University of California Davis. He continued to be a home winemaker experimenting for years before going commercial. He enjoyed experimenting with different techniques, grape varietals, and styles of winemaking. The small scale production allowed him to see and detect flaws or defects that can sometimes occur in the winemaking process and the opportunities to learn how to mitigate or reverse the damage.
In response to their love of food the couple traveled to France where they pleasantly discovered and were intrigued by the complexity of French Burgundy. Later, Lane traveled to Oregon for work and realized the shocking similarities of the two wine growing regions. With much coaxing and prompting (seriously, it rains a lot in Oregon!) she was able to drag Geoffrey to Oregon where he was forced to agree with her analysis.
Toluca Lane's Vineyard
The Move to Oregon
Lane and Geoffrey soon purchased acreage in the Eola-Amity Hills choosing the property for its slope, elevation, and soil characteristics. The 2.4 acre vineyard in Walnut Hill lies in the Van Duzer corridor on shallow Nekia soils. Cool evening breezes from the ocean winds provide bright acidity and optimal ripening conditions. They planted the vineyard in 1998 focusing primarily on Dijon and Pommard clone Pinot noir.
Geoffrey and Lane are the vineyard managers, winemakers, and business managers of the winery. Each detail carefully planned as a team. Toluca Lane's first commercial vintage was in 2002 as a custom crush produced at Cuneo Cellars. They have since moved their facility to the winery cooperative at August Cellars. The couple chose August Cellars for the state of the art equipment and gravity flow facility. What they didn't count on was the fantastic camaraderie of the other winemakers at the cooperative. Howard Mozeico of Et Fille and Matt Driscoll of Wild Aire Cellars also call August Cellars "home."
Geoffrey continue to take courses at Chemekta to keep his skills sharp and pursue more formal winemaking education while Lane heads up the tasting and entertaining aspects fo the winery. During her tenure at acclaimed food and wine magazine, Bon Appetit, she managed and created the food testing program. It is a routine, methodological, but creative process to evaluate recipes for taste, appearance, and consumer appeal. It is no surprise that at Toluca Lane, her "good taste" is put to extensive use in the barrel room especially when it comes to blending trials and barrel sampling.
Toluca Lane from Above
About Toluca Lane Pinot noir
The Toluca Lane Pinot noir makes it clear that between Geoffrey's winemaking skills and Lane's palate, they have the right combination. Lush and densely packed with big blackberry and black cherry notes. Silky and mouth-coating, the flavors just keep coming and bombard the mouth with intense juicy black plum and little bursts of bramble. Layered throughout is a background note of earth and creamy bits of caramel. This is truly a Pinot worth getting excited about. Enjoy it now, there is no need to cellar this wine.
Toluca Lane only produce about 350 cases and Geoffrey, true to his home winemaking roots, does not intend to expand the winery beyond 500 cases at any time in the future. Get it while you can.