Tags Posts tagged with "chardonnay"

chardonnay

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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.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

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Hanzell Chardonnay

Any time I can taste Hanzell Chardonnay – older or current release – it is a treasure. Their whites are among my favorites from California. Included in their wealth of vineyards are the oldest continually producing Pinot and Chardonnay vines in the state, planted in 1953. The original vines were established from cuttings of Stony Hill. In the Spring Hill District of the Mayacamas Mountains, Stony Hill was the first Napa Valley vineyard and winery established post-Prohibition. The rest of the Hanzell Chardonnay vineyards, including blocks from 1972, 1976, 1992 and 2001, are established with cuttings from those first 1953-vines as well as heritage selections from Hyde and Robert Young, and, in small sections, Dijon clones.

Hanzell sits within the broad Sonoma Valley appellation, on the eastern side of the county, set against the Mayacamas Range that divides Napa from Sonoma, while also open in the South to the cold, moist influence of San Pablo and San Francisco Bays, and the Pacific Ocean via Carneros. More recently it has been included in the sub-appellation of Moon Mountain, the slope on which it sits, but, as Hanzell grows low on the Southern side, it greets fog and a cooling influence that in those ways surpasses much of what the rest of that sub-region entertains. It is cooler than the rest of the Moon Mountain sub-zone.

While Hanzell has seen a handful of winemakers and viticulturists since it’s late-1950s inception, most of all it has held consistency. Where there have been brief interludes of shifting style it has quickly returned to respect for the vineyard and house focus. Winemaker Bob Sessions, of course, carried defining influence on the winery but, just as much, the commitment of its family ownership, currently the part of the Brye family, to doing what it takes to keep such continuity has guided the style, not in an outside sense of ownership as much as an internal question of respect for the vineyard. Today, Michael McNeill serves as Director of Winemaking guiding the ship, so to speak, to respect the heritage Hanzell carries while continuing to seek perfection in small incremental improvements met over time. It’s a compliment to Sessions, the Bryes, and McNeill, as well as the founders – Zellerbach, Webb and the Day family – that Hanzell has such a strong signature to surpass any of its particular viticulturists, proprietors, or winemakers, an indication of how willing any of them are to act in service to the larger history of the site and house.

Today, Hanzell Chardonnay is known most of all for its palate stimulation and age-ability. The volcanic soils of the site create a particular sort of sapidity – lingering through the finish, tightening at the back of the mouth, dusty-iron-like in the finish – while also offering the opportunity for the winemaking to respect the opportunity for wines to age long in the bottle. The wines, as a result, generally, when young, require decanting to show what they may, while also evolving over not only hours but days. Most of all, what I appreciate about the Hanzell Chardonnays is not only that evolving character in the bottle and glass but also the mouthfeel, a sense of weight and viscidity that carries persistent presence and weft without heaviness or any cloying finish. The aged Hanzell I am sipping on now continues only to be a pleasure.

Recent History

Michael McNeill became winemaker in 2008. Within only a couple vintages after the winemaking team decided to reduce their new oak footprint on the wines to return closer to the house style of the late 1990s. The 2009 vintage is a wonderful example of the transition. In 2008, Hanzell Chardonnays were made with about 33% new barrel fermentation, with those barrels going through malolactic (ML) conversion and sur lie aging for 12 months. Afterwards, those barrel fermented Chardonnays were put to tank and aged for an additional 6 months in stainless steel. The remainder was tank fermented, without ML conversion, for 6 months, and then put down to older barrel for 12 months. After 18 months, both the barrel and tank fermented lots were blended.

In 2010, Hanzell decided to reduce the portion of barrel fermented Chardonnay to 25%, thereby effectively reducing the proportion of new oak, and also of ML fermented Chardonnay as well. As Michael explains, doing so brings the Chardonnay regimen closer to that of what Hanzell was doing in the 1990s at the height of its then-stature.

Today, Hanzell has also shifted to what it calls “thoughtful, integrative farming” utilizing biodynamic methods and relying on organic farming while focusing primarily on the health of the soil and the biodiversity of the farm – including 60 chickens, 4 American Guinea pigs, baby lambs and an edible garden.

Historic Vintages

A week ago I was able to taste three vintages with winemaker Michael McNeill – 2009, 2011 and 2013.

As Michael explains, the Hanzell Chardonnays are in high form from 5 to 8 years of age in bottle. They move into another phase of aging from 8 years on that takes on further depth and tertiary character while the fresh tension of youth also slowly falls away. In that 5 to 8 year window the fruits begin to show with a more savory and, on the palate, saline quality, with a wealth of subtlety. Hanzell Chardonnays continue to age well, depending on vintage, for as much as two decades.

2009

The 2009, as I taste it over several days, just keeps getting better with air. It’s initial richness and freshness are met by ever increasing energy and palate stimulation, a fantastic tension through the finish that is enlivening and hard to ignore. As it sits open the palate actually tightens and gains greater focus, losing some of the baby fat it has upon initial opening.

The 2009, at this point, is more developed and complicated than the 2011 with a savory element, a bit more breadth through the palate and especially the finish than the 2011, but that seems obvious in comparing the warmth of 2009 to the cold of 2011, even if the yields of 2009 were not terribly large compared to 2011. The 2009 has always been a well knit and structured wine, with a lot of balance to it inherently. There is a grand piano element to the 2009 – the nose gives hints of cedar and hand-rubbed metal string followed by a high tone, golden harmonic that strums through the palate with a long finish. The 2009 gives the complete harmony of high tone notes with the mid range and a deep tenor all together.

2011

Initially, the 2011 seems narrower both nose and palate, tightly focused, but at the same time feels more age worthy. The 2011 carries a real beam of acidity and pretty aromatic that will flesh out with a little air. The cold of 2011 served Chardonnay well and the wine will be among Hanzell’s long aging vintages but at the same time it has less breadth currently than other vintages right now. It has power of presence across the palate with concentration and length, most especially thanks to acidity, to last through age.

The palate of the 2011 is wonderfully savory and subtle while focused. The savory and subtle aspects across the nose call for both decanting and air, showing a faint petrol quality that, as Michael explains, is more commonly an indicator of a cooler vintage.

As it is, the 2011 Hanzell, as mentioned, will be one of their longest lived vintages and should be enjoyed with such longevity and accompanying freshness in mind.

2013

The 2013 vintage of Hanzell Chardonnay is immediately stimulating, both bright and impressive, a wine that demands attention while still fresh, bringing fruit notes and concentration from the natural power of the vintage.

The 2013 carries a particular mix of pure fruits alongside the signature savory component carrying the salty edge of cured meats through the finish in a refreshing way. There is a purity here that runs the full length of the palate with nice density through the mid palate. Delicious.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Rajat Parr (pictured above tasting from tank) and Sashi Moorman (pictured below in the Seven Springs Vineyard) of Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi wines in Santa Barbara County, and Evening Land Vineyards in Willamette Valley, have become two of the strongest proponents of good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the west coast United States. They are also two of the more controversial. In California, their work is strongly associated with the now-retired provocative organisation In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB). Parr was, of course, one of its founders while Moorman made several of the brands poured in its tastings. Before starting IPOB, Parr also famously founded the RN74 restaurant wine list with the promise of no wines over 14% alcohol. While IPOB itself never made such claims, Parr’s association with both it and the under-14% cause inextricably linked the two. The idea led to anger from the California wine establishment attached to defending balance in bigger-bodied wines.

In Oregon, the controversy appears differently. There Evening Land Vineyards (ELV) in its original inception stood as an example of an earlier wave of outside influence in the still mildly insular Willamette Valley. The difficulty there, in its origin, was that the organisation secured a long-term lease on one of the region’s heritage vineyards, Seven Springs, thus reducing the availability of its fruit for long-time locals. After purchasing Willamette Valley’s portion of Evening Land Vineyards in 2014, Parr and Moorman undertook a complete renovation of the project design and winemaking. Most of the previous team left as the original project was dissolving, and the rest departed just after new ownership took hold. The rapid change led to some further dismay on the part of locals. Even so, together Parr and Moorman make some of the finest examples of the varieties in the two states.

SashiMoormanWalkingSevenSprings-7.jpg

What is unique about Parr and Moorman’s wines is not as simple as just making wine under 14% alcohol, nor simply picking earlier, although they do both. The two of them work well together because of their shared vision. While both are attracted to wines of finesse, informed primarily by the great classics of France, they have sought to achieve such style through truly marginal vineyard sites. …

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes on all of their 2014 wines, continue to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/parr-and-moorman-light-burgundian-touch

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

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I’ve flown to New Zealand to attend and speak at the New Zealand Winegrowers annual Pinot Noir NZ event. People fly in from all over the world to attend and this year is no exception. There are speakers and attendees arriving from all over Europe, the United States and Canada, Australia and of course New Zealand. Many of us too have flown in in advance to tour the wine regions of the country getting to know the geography and unique growing conditions, and how they express through the various wines. The first couple days have several of us in Central Otago studying primarily Pinot noir from the area’s subregions. I’ll be posting about a Central Otago Master Class on structure in Pinot as well as a vintage study for the region in the next couple days.

We’ve also gotten to taste a peppering of white wines with meals and there are some lovely Chardonnays and Rieslings from Central Otago. While I didn’t manage to get a photo of either bottle, I quite enjoyed the Chardonnays from Felton Road and Maude. Felton Road has of course made a substantial name for itself world wide. They have some of the oldest vines in Central Otago as well as a long standing serious commitment to quality in both the vineyard and cellar. Maude, I’ll admit, is new to me. This is the first trip I’ve encountered the wines. Their Chardonnay offers just enough of a reductive edge to bring tension and a nervy cut to the shape of the wine. The flavors are all fresh and full of sapidity.

The Riesling of Central Otago has turned out to be a stand out for me and I’m hoping for more. In a few days we’ll do an Aromatics seminar in Nelson that will include a wash of Riesling, I’m guessing. I’m especially looking forward to it.

Our first night in Central Otago a bottle of Rippon Riesling was snuck into the middle of dinner. It was a refreshing surprise and one of my stand out wines for the first day of tasting. The 2011 offers an elegant gravitas – a wine with nice purity and precision that avoids austerity while still being restrained. The age offers just enough flesh on the palate to carry its wash of acidity with pleasure.

Rippon is one of the celebrated producers of Central Otago for both the quality of their wines and the beauty of their site.

Rippon is a family owned and run project. We were able to meet them on the last night in Central Otago while sharing dinner with the family at their winery. Winemaker Nick Mills, shown here, works with his mother, and siblings to produce the wines and run the business. I’m sorry not to have a portrait of his mother, who is an inspiring presence. She made dinner for several ten of us and was a pleasure to hear speak as well.

The other Riesling stand out from Central Otago was Prophet’s Rock, made by winemaker Paul Pujol, shown here. He’s also utterly charming – one of those thoughtful, jovial, and kind people I can’t help but want to spend time with. Originally from New Zealand Paul’s career had him making wine for a few years each in both Alsace and Willamette Valley before returning to Central Otago to make wine.

His 2010 Dry Riesling carries the glittering acidity of Central Otago housed in fresh stone fruits but most of all it opens the palate with purity and that sort of clarity that comes from glacial mountain water – if you’ve ever lived or traveled in a cold mountain region you know that pleasurable shock that comes from a cold glacial stream. It’s some of the purest flavor too on the planet – but then through the midpalate the wine opens to a kiss of apricot peach sweetness that closes the palate. It’s a lovely wine.

The 2014 Prophet’s Rock Dry Riesling comes in lighter and more finessed right now than the 2010, following a tighter arc across the mouth than the 2010. Some of that comes from age, I suspect, but there also seems to be a difference in vintage expression – less fruit focus on the younger vintage that I don’t think will turn into the level of apricot peach flavors of the 2010 though the younger wine offers fresh stone fruits too. Again, its gift is that purity.

The apricots of Central Otago are almost shocking in their vibrancy. They’re utterly high, bright acid like putting a light bulb in your mouth but then the fruit notes that come just after the shock are lovely. My first bite of one jolted me but then I couldn’t get enough. I’m a fan of that feeling of food or wine lighting up the back of my head. The apricots of the region share that sense of mountain glacial purity that I find in the Rieslings mentioned here, and while the wines aren’t shocking in the way the fruit is there is a spectrum of commonality between them – light touch flavors of stone fruit, glacial mountain purity, and an ultra long finish of pleasing acidity.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Winemaker Trials: Finding Consistency from Vintage to Vintage

 

The commitment Sonoma-Cutrer brings to researching and testing in its oak program has allowed the winery to offer a consistent style year to year
Sep 2016 Issue of Wine Business Monthly

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards was founded in 1973 on the idea of quality Chardonnay. The winery has since added Pinot Noir to its portfolio, but its production remains primarily with the white variety. Integral to the success of Sonoma-Cutrer has been its ability to deliver a consistent style vintage to vintage while also clearly distinguishing between each of its individual cuvées.

The winery produces five distinct Chardonnays annually. The Russian River Ranches and Sonoma Coast labels serve as its widely available appellation blends. At the reserve level, Sonoma-Cutrer also produces two vineyard designates, Les Pierres and The Cutrer. For the wine club, The Founder’s Reserve Chardonnay includes the winemaking team’s favorite small lot cuvée from that vintage, which changes year to year. Across all five brands, 85 percent of the Chardonnay is fermented in standard-size oak barrels. As a result, the barrel program is integral to winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer.

Sonoma-Cutrer Barrel Trials

Sonoma-Cutrer winemaker Cara Morrison leads extensive annual barrel testing. The trials allow the winery team to taste test different coopers and wood sources as well as different toast levels and styles—every year, 60 individual barrel types are chosen, and two of each selection are ordered. All 120 barrels are kept in the barrel trial over a three-year period, and refilled each vintage to check the flavor profile after fermentation, for each of the three years. They have been doing the yearly barrel trials in this way for more than a decade.

To keep reading this article head on over the WineBusiness.com where the article appears free-for-all. It is also published in their September 2016 edition of Wine Business Monthly. You can find it there on page 60. 

Here’s the link to the article online: 

http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getArticle&dataId=173071

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What Makes a Cool Climate? Keynote from Ian D’Agata, i4C+ 2016

Ian d'Agata

i4C+ 2016 Keynote Speaker Ian d’Agata

Ian D’Agata opened this year’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration with greetings in Italian. The venerable wine writer heralds originally from Canada and has devoted his life since to understanding Italian wine. Most recently, in 2015 his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy was awarded wine book of the year by the prestigious Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards. At Vinous.com, D’Agata serves as Senior Editor and Head of Development for Europe & Asia. He has stands as a self-described champion of Canadian wine.

In his keynote address, D’Agata considered the notion of a cool climate, asking what the nomenclature means without formal definition. As he pointed out, regions that count as cool climates in the world of wine “get just as hot at the peak of the season” as other warm climates of the world but, importantly, cool climate temperatures drop more quickly approaching harvest. Grapes at harvest, then, are picked at a different point in the arc of ripening “insuring the wines taste differently” than those from fruit selected at higher temperatures.

He pointed out that growing degree days and mean temperature indexes offer only rudimentary insight into the growing conditions of a region. Instead, a latitude index also being integrated into degree day measurements offer additional insight. D’Agata emphasized the challenges of classifying cool climate regions as no single measurement can discern them from other climate types. He pointed out that factors such as diurnal shift, solar radiation, soil type and its drainage, the average length of a growing season and the demand to plant for heat conservation are all relevant considerations. Cool climates, as he pointed out, limit grape ripening and include the sincere threat of damage to the vines in the winter due to weather.

When considering the wines themselves, D’Agata explains that “the hallmarks of cool climate wines” include high perceived acidity, brightness, freshness, crispness, minerality and that these characteristics “tend to be achieved naturally without excessive intervention.” Flavors, D’Agata mentioned from cool climate wines tend to include notes like citrus, melon, minerality and salinity. He also pointed out that to some degree cellar interventions can adulterate otherwise cool climate wines. In his view excessively apparent oak and overall flabbiness to the wine tend to hide cool climate character.

As he continued, D’Agata questioned the degree to which these hallmarks of a cool climate can be achieved in otherwise warmer regions. The implication was that generally speaking it is harder to capture the constellation of qualities common to cooler climates simply by picking earlier (for example) in a warmer one. At the same time, he acknowledged that no growing region is homogenous. In any region there may be specific mesoclimates with unique soil, drainage, aspect, and temperature etc that when all in balance deliver cooler character in an otherwise warmer clime.

With all of this in mind, D’Agata noted that truly understanding cool climate regions depends on considering latitude, growing degree days and expression in the wines themselves.

Finally, and in recognition to our event hosts, D’Agata emphasized that in his view Chardonnays from Canada really are world class. He pointed out that he can speak to how wines of the region have improved and the industry has grown since the late 1980s and early 1990s when “it was much harder going” tasting the wines. At the time, “I was very proud to bring back Ontario wines to my wine snob friends in Italy,” he joked. He continued, “and they would laugh me out of the room.” But when he brings back wines of Canada to taste with his friends in Rome today, he says, “I tell you, they’re not laughing anymore.” The wines today are good.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

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Spending the Day at Frog’s Leap with John Williams

John Williams was kind enough to meet photographer Stephen Smith and myself to spend the day sharing and showing us the Frog’s Leap story.

The three of us met first thing in the morning to walk the vineyard and winery in the heart of the Rutherford Bench, then drove north through Napa Valley to see Frog’s Leaps other estate vineyards. Frog’s Leap is known for its Bordeaux varietal wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc – and Chardonnay and also makes a succulent, fresh Zinfandel inspired by California’s old field blend style. At the vineyard near his home, Frog’s Leap recently planted an experimental block testing to see what new varieties respond well to the specific conditions of Rutherford. In a different block of the same site they also farms a collection of mixed-black old vines that go into the Frog’s Leap Heritage blend.

Frog’s Leap doesn’t just grow vineyards though. John has brought his focus to sustainability in farming practices such as dry farming while also focusing on sustainability of overall estate management. To preserve the economic health of the Frog’s Leap team, the winery established year round food gardens that are used on-site for winery meals and by winery employees. The gardens are also maintained by the winery and vineyard staff so that in the months when vines need less tending the garden keeps them busy and employed.

John’s inspiration for California’s old style can also be found in his restoration of the historic winery building from the 1880s that serves as part of the structure for his own contemporary winery, as well as his love for old trucks and cars.

We drove up the valley together in his 1969 Chevy. It was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had to cruise Napa Valley backroads in John’s iconic pick-up truck. That truck is an important part of Napa Valley history, full of Frog’s Leap stories. Incredibly, the three of us had so much fun that the day culminated finally in this…


Over the course of the day, while I interviewed John, Stephen documented our time together in photographs. He’s been generous enough to let me share his photos from the day here. I love the way they tell the story on their own.

Visiting Frog’s Leap in Photographs by Stephen Smith

Frog's Leap Winery

Frog's Leap Winery

Flowers at Frog's Leap

Starting the Garden at Frog's Leap

The Orchard

The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Bottling Frog's Leap

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

Inside the Winery

Entering the Winery

John Williams

Discussing Winemaking

Inside the Winery

Driving in the 1969 Chevy Pick-up Truck

The Old Vines

Inside the Old Winery

Dinner with John

Thank you to John for the great day and to Stephen for the fantastic photos.

Check out more of Smith’s photography at his own site: http://www.iamstephensmith.com/ and follow him on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iamstephensmith/. I really enjoy following his photographic travelogs online.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Michael Mara Chardonnay

The Michael Mara Vineyard Tasting

from left: Jill and Steve Klein Matthiasson, Richard and Susan Idell, Birk O’Halloran, Abe Schoener, Chris Brockaway in the Michael Mara Vineyard, Sonoma, April 2016

Last week Richard and Susan Idell hosted a producer tasting at their vineyard along with Steve Matthiasson, who farms the site. The Idell’s Michael Mara Vineyard hosts six acres of Chardonnay, clone 4 grafted to de-vigorating rootstock in an already de-vigorating site. The rocky soils, with their high drainage, not only keep vines from over-producing but minimize growth to such a degree as to create intense concentration in the fruit. Wines from the site consistently offer a glimpse of that stony character.

Planting the Michael Mara in 2006, Matthiasson helped design the vineyard, and continues to farm it, adjusting rootstock and techniques over time as characteristics reveal themselves through the vines. Within a vintage or two of first fruit, Matthiasson believed it to be a special site offering the kind of density through the palate and mineral expression, in his view, usually characteristic of older vine sites.

The concentrating power of the site can be glimpsed through surrounding foliage.

Michael Mara stands in the midst of a mini-plateau elevated by four feet when compared to surrounding properties. Throughout the earthen-swell trees reach almost half-size compared to those growing on lower grounds. Matthiasson believes the minimizing effect on plants comes from the low water retention of the soils, coupled with their mix of closely-packed rocks and volcanic earth.

Vines too grow smaller through Michael Mara, with not only less size increase year-to-year, but also less canopy compared to other vineyards. The combination of reduced growth and lessened natural shade again lead to concentration of the fruit. At the same time the juice-to-skin ratio is changed. Smaller clusters and smaller berries mean more skin to less pulp in the fruit. With the heightened phenolics from the skins, even wines put straight to press from the site carry a stimulating sapidity that washes the mouth with mineral freshness.

Flavors of the Vines

Growing up in Alaska, friends and I would sometimes spend an entire day just running through the mountains. A parent would drop us off an hour or so down the road on the Seward Peninsula at the entrance to a high elevation valley, then we would take the next several hours to simply run North through the belly of the Chugach mountains. Eventually we’d arrive near the edge of Anchorage, where another parent would pick us up. Along the way, if we grew thirsty, we learned to throw a rock in our mouths. The pebble would stimulate our palate making it water as we ran through the still snow-soaked summer range. The experience always tasted just a touch earthy, not quite salty but almost, with the flavor of fog lifting from the wet upland valley. In portions the resin scent of pine or evergreen blended in with the fog.

The stoniness of Michael Mara wines across producers and vintages reminds me of those runs through the mountains with a rock in my mouth – a mouthwatering wash of stones through the midpalate with a bit of earth and a flavor that’s almost salty but not – coupled with a bit of fog, a profound density of fruit, the flavor of which varies by picking time and cellar technique, and hints of forest resin.

The Idell family’s Michael Mara serves as source fruit for a range of producers making wine across a diversity of styles. Still that fruit density and stony wash remain consistent.

Following are tasting notes on the wines tasted at the event last week presented in the order tasted.

* Broc Cellars 2011 Michael Mara Chardonnay 12% $42

With delicate aromatics and a stimulating texture, the broc 2014 showcases a midpalate burst of fresh, clean fruit washed through with a mineral stimulating rush of acidity, and a savory finish. Refreshing, a hint funky, delicious.

* Matthiasson 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 12.9% $55

Offering a fresh fruit lift of pear and clementine touched by hints of honey and amber, the Matthiasson 2013 spins simultaneously with fresh and rich accents. Pleasing acidity carries almost lacy flavors married to a sense of lushness. Nice length and complexity. Delicious.

YoungInglewood 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.7% $60

Floral spiced aromatics followed by a palate of spiced wax, pear, and citrus rind with hints of savory forest-resin, the mid palate weight of the Younginglewood 2013 carries through a long finish. I would prefer a little less oak spice and a little less ripeness here but the wine offers a coherent expression of its style.

Idell Family Vineyard 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.2% $35

Tight aromatics and a subtle flavor profile with accents of oak spice throughout, the Idell Family Vineyards 2013 is not overly expressive currently but carries the promise of more. Showing light notes of pear and orange rind with a savory finish and persistent acidity, this wine would be worth checking-in on again in a year or two.

* Scholium Project 2014 Michael Faraday Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.49% $80

Savory aromatics and palate with a distinctive, animalistic energy brought into focus, the Michael Faraday from 2014 carries lacy flavors with a savory strength. With an almost implacable core, this wine will age through the apocalypse. It might be the only wine left standing after the Resurrection. (Does that make it heathen wine? If it is, I don’t want to be right.)

Scholium Project 2015 barrel sample Michael Faraday Michael Mara Chardonnay

Still in the fresh-wine phase, the 2015 Michael Faraday shows flavors still in evolution but carries nice energy and persistence worth investigating again later in bottle.

Iconic 2014 Heroine Michael Mara Chardonnay 12.8% $TBD

Subtle and savory aromatics with a fleshier mid palate and a softer finish (that is not to call it either soft or unfocused) than the other vineyard examples, the 2014 Heroine appears to have a little more influence of malolactic fermentation than some of the other wines poured. Carrying a subtle palate of flavor with still good density and a punch of zestiness spun through the finish. Hints of verve, pith, and savor.

Kesner 2013 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.72% $55

My favorite of the three Kesner vintages poured, the 2013 feels the most cohesive with potential to age. Showing notes of wax-nut burnished by spice the flavors here are rich though nuanced with density and length carrying into a long savory finish. Allow plenty of air upon opening.

Kesner 2012 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 14.3% $55

With subtle aromatics and palate, the 2012 is currently showing less complexity than the 2013 or 2011, as well as a softer finish.

Kesner 2011 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 14.2% $55

While the 2011 feels more disjointed than the other vintages – simultaneously offering fresh fruit notes with a bit of ripe heat through the close – it also carries a burst of fresh flavor at the front of the palate that is pleasing, before falling into a softer finish.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Why I Love Smith-Madrone

Charles Smith

I have a horrible big crush on Charlie Smith (shown above). He and his brother, Stu (shown below), express pretty much all of the desirable aspects of masculinity a girl born-and-raised in Alaska now living in California (and in love with wine) could possibly want.

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, March 2013

The affection I feel for them parallels the qualities I enjoy in their Smith-Madrone wines – decidedly California flavor bred through a farmer’s tenacity, beautiful fruit wed to wry minerality with herbal deftness. Layer in the poetry Charles hangs in the winery (shown below), and I’m done for.

The romance of Smith-Madrone

Smith-Madrone Vineyards – farmed by Stu while Charles mans the winery – sit near the top of the Spring Mountain District between 1400 and 1900 ft in elevation, in a mix of volcanic soils and sedimentary rock. The site’s knit through by a forest of deciduous and evergreen with a single, historic alley of olive trees. In 1970, when Stu launched what would become the brothers’ project, Spring Mountain held few vineyards.

A small outcrop community from the Swiss-Italian Colony had previously settled the hillsides, dotting the landscape with vines. Others would follow. The Beringer family expanded its holdings to the Eastern slopes of Spring Mountain in the 1880s. The Gold Rush brought new investors to the region. But with the onset of first phylloxera and then Prohibition, the vines of Spring Mountain vastly diminished. Stony Hill and School House Vineyards were among the first to plant again in the region in the 1950s. Then at the start of the 1970s, Smith-Madrone served as part of the lead pack of young winemakers along with Keenan, Yverdon, Spring Mountain Vineyard and Ritchie Creek, planting the Spring Mountain District hillsides before the value of Napa Valley was widely known.

Today, Smith-Madrone celebrates 44 years, one of the treasures of Napa Valley. Their wines are entirely estate made, the fruit grown in blocks spotted about the site’s steep slopes and hillsides in 34 acres of vines. The property is dry-farmed. They have recently released their 2013 Chardonnay, and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes below.

Smith-Madrone 2013 Chardonnay

Smith Madrone 2013 Chardonnay

Simultaneously racy and succulent, friendly and focused, the Smith-Madrone 2013 Chardonnay offers fresh aromatics with notes of lemon curd and crisp melon set on a toasted oat cracker. Delicious and pretty with a long finish.

Smith-Madrone 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Beautiful aromatics of cedar and herbs carry into a palate of iron and spice with mixed dark fruit. The Smith-Madrone 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon carries a surprising composure – ample flavor on a moderate body with a supple-while-snappy backbone of tannin. Mouthwatering acidity balances through a long finish. This is a young, taut wine today that would benefit from a few years in cellar.

Alternatively, it opens significantly on the second and third day with the fruit that sits behind the herbal elements on the first day stepping decidedly to the fore. For those familiar with Smith-Madrone’s green and lean 2011 Cabernet, the 2012 is a completely different animal. The brothers tout the by-vintage character of their winemaking and the Cabernet serves as a perfect illustration of that truth.

***

Happy New Year!

To read more about Smith-Madrone, you can see one of my previous write-ups from a lunch I shared with them in 2013 that was recommended by Eric Asimov for NYTimes.com: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/06/19/a-life-in-wine-stu-and-charles-smith-smith-madrone/

For more recent looks at the Smith brothers’ work, Eric Asimov asks them how Smith-Madrone has handled the drought here http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/dining/wine-california-drought.html?emc=eta1 and Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle considers Cabernet from beyond the hillsides of Napa Valley here http://www.sfchronicle.com/travel/article/Venture-beyond-the-valley-floor-in-Napa-6584745.php. Both articles have paywall restrictions.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Willamette Valley Rediscovers Chardonnay

Jason Lett

While Chardonnay was established among the very first vines of Willamette Valley in the 1960s, it has spent most of the region’s history relegated to underachiever status. With Pinot Noir as Willamette Valley’s signature grape, Chardonnay was long regarded as a side project. But recently winemakers throughout the Valley have turned their attention to the white burgundy grape, working together to better understand its distinctiveness in their region. Changes in the overall consumer climate have helped smooth the path.

As consumer interest has shifted towards lighter wines, room for distinctively Willamette Valley Chardonnay has expanded. As Jason Lett of Eyrie explains, ‘Wines with minerality, structure, and healthy acidity are much more widely accepted now than 10 to 15 years ago.’ Willamette Valley’s extended growing season and longer days offer a subtlety to the fruit that was less apparent with excessive new oak. Jason, pictured above right, has lived with a unique perspective on the wines of the region and its relation to the global market. His father David established the first vines in Willamette Valley in the mid 1960s in the original Dundee Hills vineyard shown below, bringing with him a mix of cultivars inspired by the wines of Alsace. Among them were Chardonnay cuttings hand-selected from the best vines of a cool mountain site in California. The drive for riper styles with more oak influence that dominated the wine industry 20 years ago worked against Oregon Chardonnay.

To continue reading this article head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full. You will need to have a subscription to read the article as it appears behind a paywall. Here’s a link to the article in full: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/willamette-valley-rediscovers-chardonnay

The article is accompanied by tasting notes on 44 examples of Willamette Valley Chardonnay. To read the tasting notes: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/willamette-valley-chardonnays-reviewed

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