The term lingua franca is defined as a language used in communication for specific purposes between groups of people who have different native languages. For example, English is the lingua franca for air traffic control and Italian is the lingua franca for opera.
There’s no official lingua franca for those around the world who enjoy the finer things of life around the dinner table, but if wine were a language, it would be that.
That’s part of the thinking behind the winery Lingua Franca in the Eola-Amity Hills wine region, a sub-region of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Lingua Franca is the dream of Larry Stone, who made a name for himself as one of the best sommeliers in the United States, working at restaurants like Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and Rubicon in San Francisco.
When founding Lingua Franca, Stone added famed Burgundy winemaker Dominique Lafon to his team and started making wines using time-tested Burgundian methods in a modern winery. Lingua Franca’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, which were launched at a dinner event at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa in January 2017, have met with rave reviews ever since and were the focus of a West Indies Wine Company “Somm Series” event on Dec. 5.
Presenting the tasting was Joshua Wludyka, who lived and worked on Grand Cayman for five years before leaving to take the job as the sales and marketing manager with Lingua Franca in late 2017. His visit was a homecoming in more than one way: Wludyka was part of the opening team at West Indies Wine Company in 2013 and was a sommelier at Kimpton Seafire’s Ave and Avecita restaurants when Lingua Franca launched there. Wludyka also worked at Charlie Trotter’s in its final months, a time when Stone returned to help catalogue the restaurant’s legendary wine cellar. In August, 2015, Wludyka was reunited with Stone when he interned at Lingua Franca, helping to create the winery’s first vintage of wines.
Also on hand for the tasting, was Cayman Distributors Group Marketing Manager Wine Lee Quessy, a friend of Wludyka’s who helped open West Indies Wine Company and who also shares a love for Oregon wines.
Another familiar face, Chef Dylan Benoit, prepared canapés to pair with each of the wines tasted that evening.
Lingua Franca concentrates on only two grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Its wines are made in a Burgundian style, letting the grapes speak for themselves, rather than aiming for a specific style and flavour profile vintage after vintage.
“This is not the California type of Chardonnay,” Wludyka said of the first wine served, AVNI Chardonnay, referring to the typical oaky, buttery style for which California is known. “We do use do oak during fermentation because we think the wine needs to breathe during fermentation, but it’s not overly oaky.”
The 2015 “Sisters” Chardonnay, which honours Stone’s mother and aunt, is sourced from three superb vineyards.
“This is our top-end Chardonnay,” Wludyka said.
The wine is medium bodied with racy acidity, making it more reminiscent of French Burgundy than New World Chardonnay. It also exhibited a long and complex finish. Grapes from one of the vineyards used to make the Sisters Chardonnay, called Bunker Hill, were used make another wine, called Bunker Hill Chardonnay, in 2016. That wine was listed at #34 in recently announced Wine Spectator Top 100 wines.
The Willamette Valley is roughly the same latitude as the Burgundy wine region in France and offers a similar climate, with warm and dry summers that feature long hours of daylight and cool nights. These conditions are ideal to develop Pinot Noir grapes that will yield wines with complex aromas and flavours and good acidity. The conditions also help keep the sugars, and thus alcohol levels, down, adding elegance to the wine.
“All of our Pinots are in the 13 to 13.5 per cent alcohol range,” said Wludyka. “The focus is really on having good acidity and being food friendly.”
The 2016 AVNI Pinot Noir is a medium-bodied and complex wine that reflects the elegance of its Eola-Amity Hills terroir. It is in its Pinot Noirs that Lingua Franca’s sustainable and non-intrusive winemaking methods become evident. In addition to utilising biodynamic growing practices, AVNI Pinot Noir is unfiltered, Wludyka said.
“We also use a bare minimum of sulphur,” he said.
Next tasted was the 2015 Joshua Pinot Noir, named after Wludyka and served from a magnum bottle. Like other wines from the 2015 vintage, this limited edition wine, which is drinking beautifully now, is light on the palate in terms of weight, but shows surprising complexity and depth of flavours.
Finally, the 2016 “The Plow” Pinot Noir was tasted. This wine was darker in colour with more concentrated flavours than the other Pinot Noirs, a result of coming from the oldest vineyard site in the Eola-Amity Hills, Wludyka said.
“This is just a delicious wine,” he said.