Stompin’ at The Savoy: FEL’s Anderson Valley Gem |

Stompin’ at The Savoy: FEL’s Anderson Valley Gem

Kelly J. Hayes


2018 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard

It is a special thing when an artist gets the needed resources to produce his vision and I feel like the Savoy Vineyard provides Ryan Hodgins the perfect source for his vision. Elegant but with fruit-forward characteristics, this wine is neither Burgundian nor typically Californian in style, but rather a combination of both. At 13.8% listed ABV it is bold, but perhaps the use of new French oak barrels contributes to a finesse and elegance. A fine wine, to be sure, and one to seek.

There was prodigious sweat on the brow of viticultural assistant Dan Richert when he greeted me at the gate of the Savoy Estate vineyard in California’s Anderson Valley. And rightfully so, as the thermometer on the dash of my car read 99 degrees.

“Just another October scorcher,” Dan said as he welcomed me to the pinot and chardonnay paradise that provides Lede Family Wines FEL label with fruit for the wines that are designated as having originated in the Savoy vineyard.

I had ostensibly come to walk the vineyard in advance of a Zoom tasting that I would be doing with FEL winemaker Ryan Hodgins in a week or so, but truth be told I just needed to touch a vine and get some dirt on my shoes as it had been nine months since I had last been in a vineyard. Walking the rows of chardonnay vines in the autumn heat was as life-affirming as my first swim of the year in the frigid Pacific the day before.

There is just something about nature.

The Anderson Valley is the northernmost premier pinot noir and chardonnay region in California. They say it is a “cool climate” pinot region, but as the near triple-digit temperatures here in mid-October attest, cool is a relative term these days. The Savoy vineyard is the Anderson Valley outpost of Cliff Lede, a Canadian who makes top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals on his eponymous estate from the Stag’s Leap appellation of the Napa Valley. He has named the Anderson Valley wines FEL in homage to his mother, Florence Elsie Lede, who inspired his love of wine.

This week, against the backdrop of the Savoy Vineyard, Jason Lede, Cliff’s son, and the aforementioned Ryan Hodgins hosted a gaggle of journalists, virtually, for a tasting and tour.

The Savoy sits in the “waist” of the Anderson Valley. That is to say it is in the middle of the valley where the surrounding mountains squeeze in a bit.

“We are in the ‘Deep End’ of the Anderson Valley,” is how Ryan explained it. “The warmest of the coldest section.”

This is important because the vineyard sees a daily diurnal shift in temperature where the grapes can bask in the high heat of the day, often in the 90s, enhancing development of sugars. Then it cools at night, which supports balance, freshness and acidity.

“The surrounding hills hold the fog just a little longer in the mornings,” Ryan said of the unique climate and topography’s affect on the grapes and hence the wines made from them.

The vineyard consists of 43 acres planted to chardonnay and pinot noir in the early 1990s by the forward-thinking Richard Savoy, who saw the potential to produce world-class wines in what was then a recently discovered region. There are multiple individual blocks, close to 20, and over a dozen clones are planted. Ryan favors the Martini, Calera, and Pommard blocks and all are used in the single-vineyard wines depending upon the vintage. Much of the fruit is sold to eight other acclaimed wine producers, including Littorai, Failla, and Radio Coteau.

But the consensus among the tasters on the Zoom call was that Ryan has the pick of the litter. We tasted a quartet of wines from the 2018 vintage, including two chardonnays, one an Anderson Valley cuvee that featured grapes from a variety of local vineyards, and the single-vineyard savoy. Ditto with the two pinots.

The wines were, to use a childlike description, yummy. Not to in any way detract from the elegance and finesse of Ryan’s wines, especially in the single-vineyard designate savoys, but they were simply easy drinking wines with great fruit characteristics. Sometimes we, particularly wine writers, have a tendency to get all worked up with descriptors and adjectives describing a wine. But the best thing that can be said about any wine is that it tastes good. The savoys taste great.

The second best thing that can be said about a wine is that it is reflective of its place of origin. Having walked the vineyard with Dan and acquired sweat on my own brow, I felt a sense of place when I tasted these wines with Ryan. There was a character and balance and a touch of earthy elements that was intriguing.

There is just something about nature.