We have a team like no other here at Long Meadow Ranch. In this edition of The Beet, we get to know our Director of Winemaking, Lisanne Leask.

WHAT DOES YOUR JOB ENTAIL AT LMR?

So many things. We are a small team so we all wear many hats. I am responsible for the overall quality of the wines and olive oils that we make. This means walking vineyards and olive orchards during the growing season, blending and tasting the wines, making sure we have good quality controls when we bottle, and coordinating with the LMR winemaking teams throughout the entire process.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO WINEMAKING?

As a kid, I loved gardening and wanted to be a chef. In college, I started at UC Davis as an undeclared biology major. I happened to take Intro to Winemaking at the end of my Freshman year and it opened my eyes to the world of wine. I was captivated by the connection between farming and making something that I could share with friends and family around the table.  After that, I took a quarter off from school to work a harvest at Stag’s Leap Winery both in the cellar and in the lab. That’s when I knew I was hooked!  After that, I officially transferred to the Viticulture and Enology major.  

HAS ANYTHING SURPRISED YOU ABOUT WINEMAKING?

One thing I love about winemaking is that I am surprised over and over again. I am constantly learning and having to overcome new challenges. It may be a fermentation that behaves differently than I have seen or a blend that comes together in an unexpected way. Those unforeseen and often fortuitous surprises are why winemakers can spend their entire lifetimes making wines and always be learning.

WHAT DO YOU ADMIRE MOST ABOUT CALIFORNIA WINES?

California is a place of experiments and innovation and that is reflected in the wines. Our shorter winemaking history gives California wines the freedom to be made in many styles, not only those based on tradition. Our LMR winemaking team just held a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc tasting and it was striking to see what different winemakers did with a grape I love so much. There were some stainless steel tank ferments, some concrete eggs, some oak barrels, all different ripeness levels, and aromatics – so fun and expressive!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT MAKING LMR WINES?

Our LMR team. From the farmers on the ranch to the winemakers that I work with to the chefs and staff at Farmstead, we are all interconnected and our produce, livestock, foods, and wines are complementary. It is a reflection of Ted, Laddie, and Chris Hall’s passion and dedication.  

HOW HAS HEADING THE OLIVE OIL PROJECT BEEN FOR YOU?

This has been a huge new challenge but I am loving it. Our olive orchards are so special – it has been amazing to learn about the heritage olives that Ted and Chris Hall found while out horseback riding and brought back into production. While the connection with the orchards is very similar to wine, a huge difference is that you can’t taste the olives! Olives are VERY bitter when they are not milled or cured. Since I can’t taste them to decide when they are ready, I look at the color change to purple from green, the texture of the olive, and oil content – then I smell the flesh. This gives me an idea of the final oil aromas and flavors. The other huge difference is when you are done milling, you have oil. No fermentation is needed, so that is a huge change from wine.

WHAT ARE YOUR THREE FAVORITE LMR WINES AND WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE OLIVE OIL?

First of all, this is like asking me to choose between children. My favorite olive oil is our Prato Lungo because of its delicate aromatics and rich flavors. This oil comes from the heritage olive groves on the LMR Mayacamas property.

For wines, I have different favorites for different occasions. It is dependent on things like what I’m eating, the weather, and who I’m sharing the wine with. Let’s talk about my favorites as if I was hosting a dinner party.  

I would serve oysters and a cheese plate for the first course, paired with the 2017 Blanc de Noirs. I love sparkling wine and this one is the perfect introduction to our special Anderson Valley vineyard. Pinot noir grapes are picked early with super bright natural acidity and pressed gently to make an almost colorless base wine. Floral notes with pear and apple and a mineral-driven acidity are perfect with oysters and pair nicely with the salty, savory cheese.

For the second course – creamy potato leek soup with bacon bread crumb topping paired with 2018 Pinot Noir. The combination of fresh leeks with the savory aspects of the bacon pairs beautifully with the red fruit and spice notes of the wine. This wine is enjoyable to drink because of the balance of acidity and seamless tannin structure. It is both rich and subtle.

The third course would be grilled LMR Grass-fed New York strip steak with mushroom risotto, paired with 2018 E.J. Church Sangiovese. Sangiovese is such a special grape. It has a depth of character and broody notes that I really enjoy. The brighter aromas of the wine pair well with the earthy mushrooms. Our Sangiovese block is on a terraced hillside at the Mountain Estate. Each row is evaluated to decide when to pick and often the top of the hill ripens before the bottom so we harvest twice. These two parts of the wine come together to form a nuanced and pretty wine that I love to share with people.

MARCH IS WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE BEING A WOMAN WORKING IN A MOSTLY MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY? DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR WOMEN WHO WANT TO GET INTO WINEMAKING?

For women wanting to work in this industry, it’s important to find good mentors to help guide them. Early in my career, I was lucky to have people recognize my drive and passion and to have female winemakers help me develop my skills. Through experience, I learned that when you are being interviewed by a company, you should also interview them. If you don’t feel respected or taken seriously during the interview, it typically won’t get better when you are actually working there. Culture is really important and you want to find a workplace that supports you and lifts you up. One of the things I truly appreciate at LMR is the way they support their team and allow us to learn from the people who came before us. Cathy Corison mentored Ashley Heisey. Ashley mentored me. And I look forward to continuing this tradition in the future.

Learn more about Lisanne and our entire winemaking team here.

SHOP LISANNE’S FAVORITES

2017 BLANC DE NOIRS
ANDERSON VALLEY ESTATE
Pinot Noir
2018 PINOT NOIR
ANDERSON VALLEY
2018 SANGIOVESE, E.J. CHURCH
PETER’S VINEYARD, NAPA VALLEY
PRATO LUNGO
ORGANIC EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL