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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
15 Jun 2018

From €78.90, $83.99, 899 Swedish Krone, 11,600 Japanese yen, £84.50 

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You can meet the celebrated ex-sommelier and Fulbright scholar behind this new enterprise in Oregon in this video. I have followed his career ever since he was somm at Charlie Trotter's famous restaurant in Chicago. He then moved to the West Coast and worked at the once-celebrated Rubicon restaurant in San Francisco (one of his protégés was Raj Parr) before being involved with another Rubicon when he worked for Francis Ford Coppola, owner of Inglenook in Napa Valley.

In 2010 he was hired by Evening Land and two years later, having been exposed to the Willamette Valley and its various terroirs, he bought land in Oregon for himself, funding it by selling his wine collection. As outlined in Elaine's recent detailed guide to the various AVAs of Oregon's principal wine-growing nucleus, Eola-Amity Hills ('considered the winemakers' region') was the most likely location. He was taken specifically by land next to the revered Seven Springs Vineyard and on the way picked up an offer from Dominique Lafon of Meursault to help out. (Dominique has a long history in Oregon, having been involved in both Evening Land and the Seven Springs Vineyard.) This helped parlay enough financial backing to construct a winery and I have had the pleasure of tasting Lingua Franca's output since trying an eight month-old cask sample of one of the Pinots from the debut vintage, 2015.

I see from my 14 tasting notes on Lingua Franca wines, my scores of the 2015s were all at least 17 – not bad for a debut vintage. There is an Avni and a Bunker's Hill Chardonnay but the main focus is on Pinot Noir, several different bottlings, many single-vineyard, such as Avni; Ryan's Plow; Joshua, Junichi & Siri; Tongue N'Cheek; and this Mimi's Mind. (Elaine has posted two more notes on Lingua Franca wines, with scores of 17 and 17.5+.)

Mimi's Mind is the most ambitious of their Pinots, and the slowest to evolve. When I first tasted the 2015 in April last year, I was impressed but it wasn't as expressive as its stablemates. My tasting notes then included this: 'An Oregon Pinot for cavemen! Ambitious Nuits? Not friendly at the moment but I'd love to see it in a few years.'

But already by early May this year when I re-tasted it, it had started to show its mettle and I couldn't resist giving it a score of 18 and writing, moved more by enthusiasm than precision, 'Deep crimson. Super-layered and complex on the nose. Very intense but not sweet. Really exciting fruit. Long. Chapeau! Really lovely. Very appealing but with an undertow of gossamer-fine tannins. Woo hoo for Oregon Pinot!'

This is a very fine wine by any standards that deserves to be served over at least the next six years (possibly more) with respect and with food. (See this thread on our Members' forum about drinking red wine with and without food.) Apparently it won a double gold at the Six Nations Challenge in Australia, which pits hand-picked wines from the six major non-European wine-producing countries against each other.

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The wine is named after Lingua Franca's new viticulturist Mimi Casteel and expresses her extremely distinctive vineyard shown above. Here's what Larry Stone has to say about her and it:

'Mimi studied forestry but is also the daughter of Ted Casteel, who is the viticulturist for Bethel Heights, so she grew up imbued with farming. She uses no-till farming methods, culitvates bees and chickens, sheep for keeping the cover crop in check, and llamas that herd the sheep. It is really a beautiful place close to ours and sharing the same aspect, soils and macroclimate. So we hope that her work with us will also result in similar quality of flavour, depth, length and complexity. The first three vintages from her vineyard have all been the best Pinot we've made.

'Because the quality of the fruit was so impressive, we made a little departure from Dominique Lafon's normal practice of destemming everything. This wine was about 70% whole cluster. Fermentation was handled with pump-overs until near the end of fermentation when we made two or three punch downs by foot, traditional pigeage. All of our punch downs are manual by foot, by the way, yeasts are all native. In Mimi's Vineyard there is no tilling and the cover crop is maintained by the flock of dwarf sheep herded and guarded by a llama. There is not even any in-row hoeing.

'In the meantime we have also begun to use more whole cluster, averaging around 25% in all our 2016 vintage and going forward.'

The sheep, I'm told, have just been sold, but the intention is to build up another flock. (What a lovely word that is, by the way.)

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The official spiel about this wine on Lingua Franca's website is:

'Mimi's Mind is named in honor of Mimi Casteel's beautifully maintained vineyard near ours, which slopes to the east, with a little wash of Woodburn soils that graduate up the hill into Nekia and Jory. This is the finest and most expressive of our 2015 wines. Deeply flavoured with a complex interplay of mineral, floral and fruit elements, it offers spice, truffles, savoury herbs, and lovely "tension", as Dominique calls it. Its long finish carries the melange of flavours to the end. It is a wine to contemplate.'

The wine is much more expensive than most of our wines of the week but I do not believe it is overpriced. I think this is going to be a wine and winery to follow.

You can buy it direct from the winery website for $90 a bottle, but Wine-searcher.com lists many a US retailer. It's also available in Austria and Japan, and Berry Bros & Rudd are selling it and other Lingua Franca 2015s (all worthwhile) in the UK.

Clothilde Lafarge of Volnay has been interning at Lingua Franca, where the winemaker is Thomas Savre, who is also well grounded in Burgundy. Co-f(o)under is San Francisco lawyer David Honig.

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