From the U of M to California Wine Country

Shoreview native Andrew Berge makes wine for hot winery La Pitchoune
Andrew Berge, of La Pitchoune
Andrew Berge

Courtesy of La Pitchoune

While Minnesota wine continues getting better and better, I think another great way to drink local is to drink great wine from Minnesotans.

It’s a topic I’ve covered extensively. I just wrote about Chelsea Hoff’s new wine brand, Fearless; I’ve talked about Bill Hooper’s Winebau Paetra on WCCO and Dave Ready Jr.’s Murphy-Goode; there’s also Robert Hall, Robert Mondavi, Stephen Ross, Flying Cloud. The latest you should keep on your radar? A University of Minnesota grad in agricultural engineering: Andrew Berge.

He’s a Shoreview native who’s now the winemaker for up-and-coming winery La Pitchoune. Andrew tells me had “a typical suburban Minnestoa life in the ’80s and  ’90s”—a public school-going, outdoors-loving, normal kid. Like many of us, he was introduced to wine at Surdyk’s and Hennepin Lake Liquors. “Nothing fancy, just value wines I could afford on a college students budget,” he says, like zinfandels and cabernets.

Family dinners sparked his interest in wine, when his dad talked about dreams of operating a winery and vineyard. “Over dinner we would discuss how each member of the family would have a role in the business. Winemaking piqued my interest, as it involved science, being outdoors, crafting something. And the locales which produce top wines seemed like ideal places to reside,” he says.

After the U of M, Andrew headed to California to get his master’s at the premier winemaking school in America, UC-Davis. He worked in New Zealand, then as an associate winemaker at Hunter in Sebastopol. In 2010, he was hired by Minnesotans Bill and Tiki Spell, who were starting a pinot noir winery in Sonoma county, called Spell Estate. After two years making their excellent pinots, Andrew was hired as the winemaker/partner at La Pitchoune in Santa Rosa.

No surprise, the pinot from La Pitchoune is extraordinary, and packs huge flavor and complexity for its $58 price tag. “The Sonoma Coast is a blend of lots from different vineyards. It’s a wild place on the Sonoma Coast, and we wanted the wine to embrace the elements that remind us of the salty wind-swept ridges, bramble-lined creeks, and rustic charm of weathered ranches,” he explains.

He calls his winemaking style “traditional,” using yeast and bacteria from the environment.  Wine nerd alert: “On occasion, I will add a bit of water to control the final alcohol, or a touch of tartaric acid to pull everything together. I associate it with a chef who seasons your food. Small amounts of sulfur are used to control undesired microbial activity and oxidation throughout the process,” he says.

La Pitchoune means “the little one,” and they are a little operation. “The name speaks to small production, small lots, and the idea that our small size is our greatest asset,” he says. They use pinot noir grapes to make a cool rosé that was named “one of the 20 best Sonoma rosés to drink” this summer by Sonoma Magazine, as well as a super approachable and mineral Chenin Blanc. Both are under $30. I tried the Russian River chardonnay, too: creamy, citrusy, but the mineral finish reminded me much more of a French chardonnay than a big, buttery California chard. I loved it.

So far in Minnesota, you can find the wines at the brand new wine bar the Tasting Room (1434 W. 31st Street, Minneapolis). Hopefully they’ll get distribution so we can have them in our great wine stores, too. But support Minnesota, and drink La Pitchoune.

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