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On the Pinot Trail: FEL Wines

At the last World of Pinot Noir I met with Ryan Hodgins, the very personable winemaker at FEL Wines in Anderson Valley. His current Pinot Noir releases are outstanding, so I wanted to know the story behind the wines.

In 2009, Cliff Lede, proprietor of Lede Family Wines in Napa Valley, expanded into Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris with the acquisition of Breggo Cellars in Anderson Valley. In 2014, as tribute to his mother, Florence Elsie Lede, Lede renamed the brand FEL Wines. She was known for her home winemaking hobby and sparked Lede’s curiosity in wine when he was young. p,> In 2011, Lede bought the Savoy Vineyard in Anderson Valley, known as one of the premier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards in the North Coast region of California. The vineyard was planted by Richard Savoy in 1991, and encompasses 44 acres of diverse sub-blocks planted to a wide array of Dijon and heritage Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones and selections. Fruit from Savoy Vineyard is also sold to Auteur, Failla, Littorai, Peay and Radio-Coteau among others.

Winemaker Ryan Hodgins buys fruit from other vineyards in the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast for the FEL portfolio’s of single-vineyard bottlings. The full array of wines includes: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley Chardonnay, Anderson Valley Pinot Gris, Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir, Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay, Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, and in select vintages, Savoy Spiritus Pinot Noir.

Raised in Portland, Oregon, Ryan attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where he majored in biology and developed an interest in plant biology and winegrowing. He considered several careers after college, but wine seemed most interesting and he soon attended University of California at Davis where he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Viticulture & Enology. He met his wife at Davis, who is also a viticulturist. His first handson experience in vineyard and winery work was during a harvest internship while at Davis under mentor Brice Bagnall, the winemaker at Witness Tree Vineyard in Salem, Oregon. Upon graduation in 2004, Ryan worked at Acacia Winery in Napa Carneros, leaving to accompany the winemaker at Acacia, Michael Terrien, who left Acacia to become the winemaker at Hanzell Vineyards.

While working as an assistant winemaker at Hanzell Vineyards, Ryan became the founding consulting winemaker for Breggo Cellars in the Anderson Valley in 2005. When Cliff Lede acquired Breggo Cellars (now FEL) in 2009, he asked that Ryan become the full-time winemaker. When Lede bought Savoy Vineyard in 2011, it became the winery’s first estate vineyard. Ryan was very familiar with the vineyard, having made wines for Breggo from Savoy Vineyard, and it was only natural that he became the vineyard manager and grower relations manager for Savoy Vineyard along with his role as winemaker at FEL.

Ryan’s Pinot Noir vinification is straightforward. Grapes are largely de-stemmed with some limited amounts of whole cluster based on intuition (in 2014 he did include 20% to 30% whole clusters in the bottom of the tanks primarily in the AV blend and Savoy Vineyard wines). He prefers not to make wines that make people think of whole cluster first when they smell the wines. Generally he employs 5 to 7 days or longer of extended maceration with the amount of tannin driving the length of time decision. The wines are aged 15 months in barrel without racking.

FEL’s Anderson Valley grower partners include Donnelly Creek, Ferrington and Wiley vineyards. Beginning in 2012, Ryan began sourcing wine from outside Anderson Valley, and was able to obtain some much-prized grapes from Hirsch Vineyard. Today, Ryan crafts 5 Pinot Noirs, 2 Chardonnays and a Pinot Gris: a total of 7,000 cases annually. The wines are sold online at, through wine clubs, and a mailing list. The generous 2012 vintage provided plenty of wine to go around.

Read more about Ryan in the last page of this issue in the “Up Close and Personal” feature.

2013 FEL Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 2,347 cases, $38. Released May 1, 2015. A blend of several clones and selections including Dijon, Pommard, Mt. Eden and Martini from Donnelly Creek, Savoy, Wiley and Ferrington vineyards. Harvest average Brix 24.7º. 5 to 7 day cold soak, 9-day uninoculated primary fermentation, and 3 to 7 day extended maceration. Aged 14 months in 100% French oak barrels, 38% new. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Hi-tone scents of black cherry, red currant and spice lead to a mid weight plus charge of black cherry, black raspberry fruits accented with a pleasing spice note. The wine has balanced tannins, integrated acidity, and some length. This is a terrific AVA blend that is primed for current drinking. Score: 91

2013 FEL Anderson Valley Chardonnay

14.2% alc., 1,201 cases, $28. Released October 1, 2014. A blend of multiple clones sourced from Ferrington and Savoy vineyards. Harvest Brix averaged 23.0º. Whole cluster pressed to tank, fermented in neutral French oak barrels with limited malolactic fermentation. Aged sur lie 9 months in neutral French oak barrels. · Moderately light straw yellow color and clear in the glass. Aromas of citrus, tropical fruits and apple hold up nicely over time in the glass. Richly fruited, yet crisp and vibrant, with a vigorous mid palate attack of citrus. Very satisfying, with subtle notes of pear and roasted nuts, finish with a bright charge of lemon-lime spirit. Score: 90

2014 FEL Anderson Valley Pinot Gris

14.2% alc., 1, 437 cases, RS 0.35%, $25. Released May 1, 2015. A blend of fruit from Wiley Vineyard, Filigreen Vineyard and Donnelly Creek Vineyard. Harvest Brix 23.6º. Whole cluster pressed, fermented in a 900 gallon French oak oval, small neutral French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. · Light golden yellow with a faint pink caste in the glass. Don’t underestimate Pinot Gris - there is plenty to like in this wine. Aromas of nectarine, peach, melon, pine, herbs and floral bouquet. Bright, crisp, clean and refreshing with flavors of apple, stone fruits, melon, lychee and herbs. The flavors really cling to the palate. A very complex wine that changes over time in the glass, and will perform beautifully at the dinner table. Score: 92

2012 FEL Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay

14.2% alc., 138 cases, $48. Released December 2014. A blend of clones including Wente and Martini selections. Harvest Brix 23.6º. Whole cluster pressed to tank, barrel fermented in 50% new French oak, aged sur lie for 15 months. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. The nose leads with aromas of fig, lychee, citrus, flower basket and buttery brioche. Some California fruit exuberance, with flavors of pear, lemon, white peach, and a deft touch of oak. Smooth and slightly viscous on the palate, with tight acidity lifting the finish. Score: 90

2012 FEL Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 645 cases, $65. Released December 1, 2014. A blend of clones including Dijon and Pommard, as well as Martini and Calera selections. Harvest Brix average 24.6º. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of fresh black cherry, rose petal and spice, with some cedary oak chiming in over time. Layer upon layer of gorgeous black cherry, kirsch and black raspberry goodness envelope the palate. A sexy, suave wine that is plush and velvety in the mouth, yet there is enough acidity to keep the experience fresh and vibrant. Nothing is out of place in this magnificent wine that finishes with a flourish of perfectly ripened black stone fruits. I ran out of superlatives with this one, but WOW sums it up. Still terrific the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating good age ability. Score: 95

2012 FEL Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 382 cases, $65. Released February 1, 2015. A blend of Dijon 777 and Pommard clones. Harvest Brix average 24.3º. 7-day cold soak, 6-day extended maceration. Aged 14 months in 100% French oak barrels, 62% new. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. The complex nose offers an array of scents including dark red berries and cherries, balsam, spice, meadow and a hint of vanilla. The bright black cherry and raspberry fruits offer good lift and energy. Discreetly concentrated, the wine sports balanced tannins and deft integration of oak. Much better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, with more expressive fruit aromas and flavors and more length on the finish. Like the Savoy bottling, this wine should easily age for 10 years. Score: 93

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