Though acclaimed Emeritus Winemaker Dave Lattin has made a wide variety of wines at renowned wineries like Merus, Storybook Mountain and Kuleto Estate, he began his career at Acacia Winery in 1984, where he fell under the spell of Pinot Noir. “Pinot Noir is the variety I cut my teeth on, and it is still the one I love the most. Making a great Pinot Noir—one with nuance, elegance and a deep and meaningful sense of place—is incredibly difficult, and to me is the ultimate challenge.” Since joining Emeritus in 2017, Dave has embraced this challenge, working with Founder Brice Cutrer Jones, Vineyard Manager Kirk Lokka and COO Mari Jones to make profoundly vineyard-driven Pinot Noirs of uncommon purity and aging potential.
Dave grew up in Corvalis, Oregon, and from his first memorable sip of Mosel at the age of six, he has been cultivating a keen palate and a passion for wine. After earning his bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Oregon State University in 1981, Dave moved to California to pursue a master’s degree in enology from UC Davis. While at Davis, Dave met the winemaker for Acacia, who convinced him to join the winery’s team as an intern. The work inspired him beyond his expectations and he quickly fell in love with winemaking. After turning in his thesis, Dave followed his girlfriend (now his wife) to Paris, where he developed a deep appreciation of French wines. On a shoestring budget, and at times living out of a tent, he regularly traveled to the great wineries of Bordeaux in search of work, ultimately landing at cellar job at Troplong-Mondot.
After returning to the U.S., he worked as the enologist at Robert Pecota, and later as the cellar master at Storybook Mountain, before rejoining Acacia, where he was promoted to winemaker in 1992, and to general manager/winemaker in 1997. After eleven years at Acacia, Dave was named the winemaker for Kuleto Estate, where he earned a reputation for making some of Napa Valley’s most alluring and sophisticated mountain-grown wines. In recognition of his skill, when Kuleto Estate was acquired by vintner Bill Foley, Dave also was named the winemaker for Napa Valley’s acclaimed Merus Wines. In early 2017, Dave left Kuleto Estate and Merus to join the team at Emeritus. “I spoke with Brice and he said the magic words: ‘all estate, all dry farmed, all Pinot Noir,’” says Dave. “Before I accepted the job, I drove back up to Hallberg Ranch on my own, and just stared at the vineyard. It is such a remarkable piece of land—like a gorgeous green flying carpet. It was so clear to me that the vines had found something deep down that they loved. I knew that I wanted to make its wines.”
At Emeritus, Dave works to preserve the clonal diversity of different estate blocks by doing as many as 50 individual fermentations each vintage. He also focuses on assessing the maturity of different clones at different Brix levels. “Because we dry farm, the grapes develop full color and flavor at lower Brix, while also gaining sophistication and finesse.” Working with Brice, Dave has also been refining Emeritus’s barrel program. “We visit Burgundy every year to look at our wood piles, and to guide the seasoning of our barrels. We use barrels from three different multigenerational, family-owned coopers. While we are very thoughtful and restrained in our use of new oak, each barrel brings something different to our wines.”
For Dave, the goal is to make wines that are pure, elegant and aroma-driven, with succulent acidity, excellent texture and length. “The finest Pinots inspire the senses and stir the soul. They are also wines that transport you to the place they were grown. These things are the essence of Emeritus.”
Dave is a panelist for the Exploring the Neighborhoods of the Russian River Valley - Seminar on Saturday, March 7, 2020.