Ask the Winemaker: La Crema’s Craig McAllister


I recently had the chance to speak with Craig McAllister, La Crema Winery’s new head winemaker. He took the reins this past January. La Crema wines are much-loved by millions of wine drinkers in the United States for their artisan yet approachable bent. Here are some key notes from my chat with Craig.

On becoming a winemaker

Craig had a bit of a late start. He was working in resort hotels in New Zealand and started to lose interest. One day he opened the newspaper and found an advert for Lincoln University’s new viticultural program. He’d always had an interest in wine, but it was from this moment that he made the decision to join the wine industry. He graduated in 2004 and worked in Australia’s Hunter Valley for a few years. By 2007 he’d made his way over to California. After a few successful harvests in the States he spent some time making wine in Chile and Cypus. By 2009 he was ready to come back to California where he found a permanent home with La Crema.

On climate

Craig has worked in a lot of different climates – from New Zealand to Cyprus. While the relationship between wine and climate is well-established, only winemakers like Craig can comprehend these differences in a very real way. A bad year in New Zealand means you have to say goodbye to nearly the whole harvest, says Craig. But when it comes to California, even a “bad year” makes a pretty good wine. The true differences in California, he says, come down to the vineyard sites.

On the La Crema portfolio

La Crema has carefully selected a number of optimum vineyard sites since the label began in 1979. They are a pioneer in cooler climate California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. More recently La Crema has helped bring Monterey front and center. Craig calls the area a “sleeping giant” with overwhelming potential. Plans to build out La Crema’s Monterey portfolio are in the works. The label's first Monterey rosé was released just this year. Craig says that Monterey’s defining feature is the wind from the Monterey Bay to the north and west. These cold rushes of wind and fog contribute to a longer growing season and later harvest than more northern areas of California.
A few of my favorites

La Crema Pinot Gris Monterey 2015

Pencil lead, soft clay and floral blossom aromas with pleasant peach, red apple and apricot fruit. This has good acidity throughout, lifting the palate with fruit notes of peach, pear and apple and a warm earthy and creamy finish. Crisp and clean.

La Crema Chardonnay Monterey 2015

Decadent buttered popcorn and rich vanilla aromas with oak toasting and an apple lemon fruit underneath. Thick and unctuous on the palate with more strong vanilla bean and baked apple, stone fruit and spice and a bit of a mineral lift on the finish blowing towards a cool breezy pear and wildflower coda.

La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey 2014

Tarry cherry with mineral earth and full bramble aromas. A sweet spice greets the palate with blueberry and black cherry fruit, an earthy moist soil and forest floor character through the midpalate and a bit of an herbed finish that's as much dark cacao as it is mixed berry fruit.

La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2015

Cool, clean and lightly oaked aromas with a green apple and lemon fruit. Smooth, soft and pleasant palate with clean and clear apple and kiwi notes, some oat straw around the edges and a lively oak spice on the finish, a bit of an herbal top note and a nice earthy roundness towards the finish.
90 pts

La Crema Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2014

Blueberry and black cherry aromas with floral violet and pleasant spice notes. In the mouth this is restrained but confident showing earth and spice on entry, a tart focused black cherry and mixed berry fruit on the mid palate and some herbal licorice notes towards the finish, supported by chewy tannins throughout.

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