My first sip of Frank Family Vineyards actually happened at a local restaurant, Scott’s Seafood. By that time I’d heard so much about the iconic Napa winery, but had never actually tasted anything from them. So I was delighted to see their Chardonnay on the menu, the perfect accompaniment to my seafood dinner. That was over a year ago already, and I still remember how much I enjoyed that wine. So here’s a peek at what the latest vintage has to offer…
Fort Ross Vineyard focuses their vines to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The interesting thing about tasting from a winery with focused varietal selection is how different the resulting wines are based on individual block location, clonal selection, and of course the winemaking methods. The grapes for the Fort Ross Vineyard 2015 Mother of Pearl Chardonnay consist of old Wente clones, grown atop the estate’s highest elevated vineyards. Winemaker Jeff Pisoni highlights the complexity of the resulting fruit with his minimalistic winemaking approach.
In 1988 South African natives Lester and Linda Schwartz had been living in the Bay Area for just about 10 years when they decided to purchase the, then, untouched property atop the cliffside slopes of the Sonoma Coast. Convinced the land was suitable for grapevines, Lester ordered two dozen dormant rootstocks, planting a test vineyard with 16 varieties, three trellis systems, assorted clones and rootstocks. It took four years, but the couple found the most successful plantings were of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes and spent the next ten years cultivating their 53-acre vineyard, complete with roads, subterranean drainage, and irrigation system. Alongside a small vineyard crew, Lester and Linda created thirty-two blocks of vines, carefully choosing which blocks were most suitable for which clones.
A taste of Fort Ross Vineyards wines means a taste of focused Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and a testament to what the cool climate and proximity to the Pacific Ocean does for these grapes. Indeed, among the Fort Ross Vineyards lineup, one can taste single-vineyard and even single-block expressions of either of these two varietals and experience how specific vineyard block orientation affects both the tastes and textures of resulting wines.
Of course one can’t get the full Fort Ross Vineyards experience without tasting a glass of Pinotage. Yes, during the course of building their vineyard acreage, Lester and Linda sourced bud wood from their native South Africa (where Pinotage claims the country’s “heritage grape” title), had it quarantined and tested through UC Davis, and became the first private growers, and eventually commercial producers, of Pinotage.
I’d been so eager to taste from Fort Ross Vineyards for so long. The reputation of the South African couple who paved the way for Fort Ross-Seaview becoming an AVA and who are the first commercial producers of Pinotage in California far proceeded them, making them almost celebrities in my book. After tasting the Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir I understood why that reputation has stayed a strong one, and my expectations were not disappointed. Shortly after that review I was invited to visit with the winery’s winemaker, Jeff Pisoni. So on the eve of that visit, I decided to “study” up and taste what the Fort Ross Chardonnay has to say.(more…)
When I showed this bottle to my friends, the response I got was, “New Zealand Chardonnay? Really?” Yes, really. Though the country is well-defined by its Sauvignon Blanc, it’s by no means the only white wine grape. In fact, in the Canterbury region, where the Mt. Beautiful winery and estate vineyards call home, Chardonnay is the third most-planted grape variety just behind Pinot Noir and, yes, Sauvignon Blanc. So let’s take a taste, shall we, and see what the southern portion of New Zealand has to offer the Chardonnay style spectrum.