We’ll venture a guess. Chances are, there’s a bottle of Chardonnay on the door of your refrigerator right now. How did we know? Well, Chardonnay is one of the most popular, versatile, adaptable and approachably delicious wine grapes. So there’s lots of it out there. But few places in the world are pushing the limits of Chardonnay quality as far as the vintners and growers here in Sonoma Valley.
So, now that most of 2016’s crop is safely harvested, allow us to dispel the myth that Mommy’s Little Helper is an “everyday” wine by introducing you to a few truly memorable Chardonnays from Sonoma Valley. Several of these wines are single vineyard designates that should give you sense of the incredible range of styles and flavors being unearthed here.
Let’s start with a little history. Chardonnay has been grown here in Sonoma Valley for generations. But things started getting interesting when Richard Arrowood, then the winemaker at Chateau St. Jean, decided to start showcasing Chardonnay fruit from individual vineyards.
Here’s Richard, in conversation with Phil Coturri, talking about his earliest vineyard designates.
Now that you have a sense of background, let’s try a few Chards. Keep in mind, this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the world-class Chardonnays being crafted in Sonoma Valley. They should, however, give you taste for how Sonoma Valley is growing Chardonnay to new heights.
CHATEAU ST. JEAN
2013 Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Valley
Ahh, Durell. It’s one of those vineyards that cool climate wine lovers long for, and the key ingredient in several of Sonoma Valley’s most acclaimed Chardonnays. Situated in the northwestern corner of Sonoma Carneros, the Durell Vineyard gets the perfect blend of morning fog, ocean breeze and plenty of afternoon sunshine. As noted, Chateau St. Jean wrote, if not the book, at least the chapter on Sonoma Valley single vineyard Chardonnay. In the deft hands of Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren, Durell Chardonnay gets the classic treatment, barrel fermented and sur lie aged, spending 15 months in 100% French Oak (38% new).
Big and generous, the Chateau St. Jean Durell Vineyard Chardonnay greets you with an inviting bouquet of baked apple, lemon custard, and crème brulee. A full-bodied palate where the fruit flavors ring true is underpinned by spice, fresh baked Brioche and juicy pear flavors. This is an epically well-balanced wine with bright acidity, accented by minerality leading into a long and elegant finish.
WHERE TO TRY IT
Durell Vineyard Chardonnay is only available at the winery. That’s the bad news. The good news is, Chateau St. Jean has a fantastic tasting room and offers some very cool tasting opportunities. We recommend the Charcuterie at the Chateau, served on the patio. Or try the Reserve Tasting in the Chateau’s Vineyard Room for a sampling of five limited-release wines.
Learn more at ChateauStJean.com.
2014 J McK Estate Vineyard, Carneros
From the patio of the 100-year old restored farmhouse tasting room at Anaba Wines you’re overlooking the J McK Estate Vineyard. Named for Proprietor John Sweazey’s children, John and McKenna, this sustainably farmed property sits on the western side of Carneros. The climate, and the name of the winery, is defined by the cooling anabatic winds that blow from the Pacific Ocean through the vineyards, allowing for longer hang time that produce intense flavors while adding brightness and acidity to the final wine.
The 2014 J McK is the first bottling of estate chardonnay for Anaba Wines. The wine’s lively nose offers layered aromas of citrus—lemon peel, minneola and key lime—combined with coconut and vanilla bean aromas. Tropical notes mingle with flavors of lemon meringue and green apple. Initially crisp, the mid palate rounds out then finishes with a touch of creaminess.
WHERE TO TRY IT
There’s something special about tasting a wine among the vineyards where it was grown. Even better when you can have an intimate Salon Tasting with one of Anaba’s wine educators. Offered Tuesday through Thursday, you’ll be guided through vineyard practices and winemaking techniques while sharing a flight of current release and tasting room exclusive wines.
Learn more at AnabaWines.com.
2014 Damaris Reserve Chardonnay
Landmark Vineyards is the ideal place to taste some of Sonoma Valley’s premier Chardonnays. Snuggled into the hillsides at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains, Landmark is a stunning location to sample some incredible wines, picnic, play bocce ball, even hunker down and stay for a day or two in a Landmark Guest Suite or Cottage. As for the wine, you won’t run out of top tier options. Landmark wines showcase Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sourced from California’s most esteemed appellations.
Landmark Vineyards produces a host of exceptional Chardonnays, including the highly acclaimed Sonoma County Overlook Chardonnay, with fruit sourced from Sonoma Valley’s Bald Mountain. In their reserve collection, however, you’ll find the 2014 Damaris Reserve Chardonnay, crafted predominantly from Sangiacomo Family Vineyards’ Kiser vineyard at the southern edge of Sonoma Valley.
While not truly a single vineyard designate, the 2014 Damaris is 89% from Sangiacomo and 11% Lorenzo Vineyard. Both experience extremely cool growing conditions. The result is a bright, alluring wine that features the scent of baking macaroons, Meyer lemon and spring blossoms. On the palate baked apples, lemon curd, and short bread cookies gleefully dance together to make this wine the perfect chardonnay for any occasion.
WHERE TO TRY IT
At the corner of Highway 12 and Adobe Canyon Road in Kenwood, Landmark Vineyards is a stunning destination. It’s definitely worth making a reservation for one of their many tasting options. Do an estate tour & tasting, a tasting with lunch, a private tasting in the tower or, hold your horses, a carriage tour through the vineyard with third generation Sonoma Valley farmer Pat Prather.
Learn more at LandmarkWine.com.