Hyde de Villaine
Born of a collaboration begun in 2000 between Napa Valley grower Larry Hyde and Burgundy winemaker Aubert de Villaine, Hyde de Villaine (HdV) produces premium Chardonnay (as well as a range of red wines) from one of the region’s most coveted sites for the variety. Hyde Vineyard grows Chardonnay in the clay soils of Carneros, that, combined with the site’s older vines, offer incredible innate power to its wines. The oldest section of Chardonnay at Hyde was planted in 1979, established with Wente cuttings. With the wish to stay entirely in California heritage selections, in the 1990s a portion of the vineyard was planted to Calera cuttings as well, though the majority continues to be Wente. Vine age has proven an advantage not only for the quality of the wine but also the health of the vineyard coming through the California drought. As the vines have continued to age, cellar choices have also shifted. The older the vines the longer the wines are held in barrel before bottling, for example.
Stephane Vivier leads the winemaking for HdV, working with the Hyde and de Villaine families to adjust the expertise of Burgundy’s long heritage to the particular character of Napa fruit. The house style, for example, has included full malolactic (ML) conversion since 2004. The cool character of the Carneros vineyard’s microclimate make preserving a sense of intense freshness while still doing full ML possible. The HdV team chooses to innoculate for ML with a strain that delivers ultra clean flavors, while also going through ML in a relatively shorter time. As Stephane explains, while many producers in much cooler climates choose to go through ML slowly to bring greater depth of flavor to otherwise steely fruit, warmer climate Chardonnay can benefit from the opposite approach – maintaining balance from a shorter ML process. While Hyde Vineyard is cool for Napa Valley, the wealth of sun brings greater flavor development, and overall temperatures are warmer compared to more genuinely cool climates like Burgundy.
The goal for HdV is to produce what Stephane calls restrained opulence. As he explains, in Burgundy, Chardonnay is understood as the Queen of Grapes, simultaneously sturdy, serious, and even imposing, with a noticeable presence. Respect for the fruit, then, comes with recognizing that natural stature of the variety. The view makes sense when tasting the HdV style – nobility comes with an innate opulence without excess as it is shaped by poise and control at the same time. Thus, HdV respects the fruit expression of California while crafting viticultural with a focus on freshness and cellar choices to maintain that integrity.
In the cellar, winemaking techniques are kept simple. Fruit is harvested to capture acidity. Then, in one of the most distinctive winery choices, the fruit is pressed at profoundly low pressure and slow speed. Pressing lasts a rather long time, as a result, outstretching industry norms for the region by more than half a day. In taking the long, slow approach, handling of the fruit is minimized through a gentle touch that invites a subtle frame and a range of understated flavors in the resulting wine. As Stephane explains, the idea is to keep things simple but to make complex wine. During aging there is no racking and before bottling no fining of filtration. It is not necessary with full ML. Barrel choices are kept consistent. Aubert has a long standing relationship, since the 1950s, with the Francois family and so those barrels are used for HdV as well.
Tasting Vintages: 2014 and 2011
Last week Stephane and I were able to taste the 2014 and 2011 vintages of HdV Chardonnay. The record cold temperatures of 2011 were outstanding for the variety. In 2014, the third year of drought brought a surprising combination of bright acidity and ample flavor at lower brix.
As Stephane describes, the 2011 vintage for Hyde Vineyard was fairly wet at the beginning and then turned cold. Big rains came at the end of the season, impacting harvest for many people, though HdV brought in fruit prior to the biggest storm. The weather conditions reduced fruit set and slowed ripening bringing a lot of innate concentration and producing a very focused and bright wine with an utterly persistent finish. The 2011 Chardonnay remains mouthwatering and focused while carrying a bit more richness of age compared to the utterly youthful 2014.
The 2014 harvest came with the impact of three years of drought. Vines were just beginning to show drought stress but vineyards throughout the region dealt with it by creating one more push for large yields, a hopeful last chance to reproduce. Yields were large throughout Northern California. At the same time, vines created a surprise reaction – vines had significant crop but with concentration comparable to that coming from cold 2011, also offering acidity and ripe flavor at lower than usual brix. The 2014 wine is savory and lightly spiced in a focused, mouthwatering frame. Opening lean and concentrated, it continues to evolve significantly with air pointing to good aging potential and plenty of interest through the palate.
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