When it comes to Napa, is Chardonnay the first grape variety that comes to mind? Well, it is the second most widely planted grape in the county, at 6,397 acres/2,588 hectares it makes up just 15% of the county’s vineyards. No surprise, Cabernet Sauvignon leads the race with 20,342 acres/8,232 hectares planted, making up 47% of Napa’s wine grapes. But as a consumer, at least in my little world, when I think Chardonnay I think about the “other” side of the mountain range (Sonoma). But Smith-Madrone, once again with the care and attention to the vines and the very minimalistic and naturalistic approach to winemaking, proves that even white wine has its place in the land of “big red.”
After the fun rosé I experienced from Stinson Vineyards, I was curious and hopeful about what their Chardonnay would present. Chardonnay is something I’m not stranger to. It’s the most widely planted wine grape here in California. Styles span a whole spectrum — from oaky, creamy “butterbombs,” to crystal clear and crisp. How a Chardonnay presents relies almost entirely on the winemaker and less so on the soil. But a chance to taste from the east coast doesn’t present itself very often. So I was eager to taste what the other side of our States had so say about California’s great white grape.
Oh Stony Hill — another winery to cross off my bucket list! The original Stony Hill Vineyard, located in Napa’s Spring Mountain AVA, was purchased by Fred and Eleanor McCrea back in the early 1940s. The first vines were planted in 1948 and by 1954 the couple already had a reputation for crafting fine Napa wines. When Fred passed in the late 1970s, assistant winemaker Mike Chelini took the winemaking reigns, and he’s held on tight to those ropes for over 40 years now. The bulk of the business remains in the family, with Fred and Eleanor’s son and daughter-in-law, Peter and Willinda, running the day-to-day operations and with their daughter, Sarah, taking over as president as of 2011.
According to the winery, Fred and Eleanor loved the white wines of Burgundy and would have loved to have planted their entire vineyard to Chardonnay. Well, they didn’t plant the whole vineyard to Chardonnay. But I can say that Fred and Eleanor would be proud that their family does great honor to the fruit that founding couple held in such high esteem.
Chamisal Vineyard is a winery I’d never heard of until I started this SIP Certified series. According to the winery, Chamisal Vineyard’s 85-acre Chamisal property is the first vineyard planted in the Edna Valley in 1973. Today it’s planted to the California classics, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as Rhone varietals Grenache and Syrah, and a small block of Pinot Gris.
As I mentioned in my post about the Imagery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the “mission statement” — if you will — of Imagery is “California wine with a twist.” In the case of the Cab, there was a splash of Petite Sirah in the mix — and yet the wine was completely open palate, ready to drink straight out of the bottle. I was pleasantly surprised. But for some reason, there was something holding me back about opening the Chardonnay. There’s a misconception about Chardonnay, that it’s an easy to grow and easy to make wine. Not so. Although it can grow in various regions, there are actually ideal conditions for the white grape. And the resulting wines, well, that’s utterly in the hands of the winemaker — it really is like their play-doh. (Read more about Chardonnay here.) So, I guess my hesitation was — what was this twist and was it going to be an overworked Chardonnay? Nope, not so. Imagery Estate keeps both the wine and the Benziger reputation crisp and clean….