When it comes to modern California Chardonnay, it seems more grapegrowers are focused in on purposeful planting, winemakers taking a more “hands-off” approach in the winery. Thus the nuances of the actual fruit are able to come forward, unmasked by excessive ML or NFO aging. Tasting the J. Cage Cellars 2016 Schmidt Home Vineyard is one such Chardonnay that piqued my interest into the current California expressions of the grape. So when owner Roger Beery asked if I’d like to taste his most recent release, my answer was an enthusiastic “yes please!”
Andrew Tow, owner of The Withers winery, has a passion for the Rhone wines. In fact, much of his portfolio is dedicated to Rhones — single-varietals and both classic and innovative blends. And for those grapes he turns to what has become known as California’s “Rhone Zone,” El Dorado County. Here the rusticity of the Sierra Foothills absolutely influence the grapes grown and, thus, the wines produce. When it comes to California’s “classics,” however — namely Chardonnay and Pinot Noir — Tow knows there’s no better place to source than the Sonoma Coast. But his preference for big bold flavors shows no bounds. And so it is that he and winemaker David Low crafted this Big Boy Chardonnay.
Lester and Linda Schwartz discovered their love of wine in their native homeland of Cape Town, South Africa. A lawyer and an artist, respectively, the couple found themselves living in California, and it wasn’t long before Lester got the itch to build himself a countryside home reminiscent of his roots. So they purchased a plot of naked land along the craggy cliffs of the Pacific Ocean in what would eventually become the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. The couple custom-built their own home, featuring traditional South African architecture; just a few years later they planted their first grapevine rootstocks and saw near immediate success. Alongside legendary winemaker Jeff Pisoni, today Lester and Linda craft beautiful Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and — as a nod to their heritage — Pinotage. (Fun fact: Lester and Linda were the first private grape growers to import Pinotage vine cuttings.)
The story of The Withers winery is one of a small-time dream turned big-time success. Across the board, The Withers wine portfolio is made up of single-vineyard bottlings from both the Sonoma Coast and El Dorado. While the two may seem quite disparate, it is for a reason. While some of the most nuanced Rhones come out of California’s inland El Dorado County, there’s no denying that Sonoma is home to some of the finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Thus, they have a portfolio that — I would say — speaks of California’s greatest wine successes. And, what I particularly love, is because they’re all single-vineyard bottlings, one can really taste the fingerprint of time and place with each sip.
You know when you’re in that head space — the one that makes you feel like you just want to be alone, listening to music, doing your own thing? It’s that solitary seclusion from the rest of the world that somehow makes you feel more connected to it. I’ve got a wine pairing for that…