The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2014

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28  /  the tasting panel  /  august 2014 "A t last, real Chardonnay," exclaims Brian Kulich, Wine Director and Director of Operations of the new restaurant Oso in Sonoma, upon his first sip of the still-unreleased 2010 Stony Hill Chardonnay. Stony Hill Vineyard does not produce "unoaked" Chardonnay—they ferment and age in 60- as well as 130-gallon French oak barrels. It's just that they never throw their barrels out, preferring to use them over and over again until their staves can no longer hold together. "I've never liked the taste of a new barrel," says Mike Chelini, who has been presiding over Stony Hill's winemaking and vineyard management since taking over from founder Fred McCrea in 1973. "We get subtle pear, apple and tropical flower notes in the fruit we grow up here on Spring Mountain—why would we want to put that in a new barrel and lose it?" McCrea established Stony Hill's vineyard on 600- to 1,200-foot elevation slopes overlooking the Napa Valley floor in 1948. By and large, the existing Chardonnay vines were replanted through a process of in-house selection by Chelini, between the late 1970s and mid-1980s. "The Chardonnays from the original vines were famous for taking 18, 20, even up to 40 years to fully develop," says Sarah McCrea, Fred McCrea's granddaughter and current President of Stony Hill. "Chardonnays from the newer plantings are more like ten-, 12-year wines"—still a staggering proposi- tion in comparison to the vast major- ity of California Chardonnays, which are over the hill by their fifth year. Ms. McCrea and Chelini tasted our visiting group on the 2010, 2009 (the winery's current release), 2006, 2004 and 1975 vintages of Stony Hill Chardonnay. Both the '75 and '04 were honeyed, viscous, but slightly diminished in clarity and capacity. The '06, however, was still a shockingly green tinted straw-gold, and sharply etched, minerally, never-ending on the palate—showing clear-cut grace over the '10 and '09, which were tightly coiled by comparison. Tonya Pitts, Wine Director of One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, com- mented, "The Stony Hill wines are pure in the sense of fruit, texture and supple- ness . . . closer to Old World than New World in style." Added Melissa Vogt, a Santa Rosa-based wine correspondent, "These Chardonnays are crisp, delicately fruited, yet still glisten majestically. I think it's the neutral barreling process that allows them to hit such subtle balance between acid and weight." In Kulich's estimation, it's Stony Hill's "moral fiber" that makes these wines so appealing to sommeliers. "It is incredible that a vineyard and winery that was established so long ago can stay true to its roots. It has taken that long for the rest of the industry to catch on to the sophistication of Stony Hill!" story and photos by Randy Caparoso The New Sommelier's Quintessential Chardonnay STONY HILL VINEYARD TAKES A DIFFERENT APPROACH Stony Hill grower-winemaker Mike Chelini with the neutral barrels he employs.

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