The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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Page 32 of 132

32 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2018 { inside sonoma } IT'S FUNNY HOW times have changed with California Chardonnays. At one point it was all about sweet fruit, creamy texture, and buttery-oaky goodness, but things have started to change over the past decade. This shift can be attributed to a greater emphasis placed on working with high- quality grapes from specific sites, better row direction and spacing, and the adaptation of more eco-friendly farming practices. The same is true in the cellar, where the use of natural yeast and sur lees stirring have increased as the reliance on new oak has less - ened. The end result is an exciting movement that aims to capture crispness, freshness, and purity of fruit—as well as the special charac- teristics of the site—in every sip. This was most apparent at a 50-year retrospective tasting held during the Sig - nature Sonoma Valley (SSV) event in early April. In Sonoma County, Hanzell Vineyards serves as one of the foundations of this trend from its perch on the Mayacamas Mountains overlooking the southern end of Sonoma Valley. The first two acres of Chardonnay vines on the property were planted by winery founder and U.S. Ambassador James Zellerbach in 1953 (at the time, there were less than 100 acres planted in California) and the original cut - tings of the property's old Wente clone came from Stony Hill in Napa. To fulfill his dream of making Burgundy- style wines in the U.S., Zellerbach de- signed a winery that was cutting-edge for its time. In addition to developing a gravity-fed system, he installed stainless- steel, temperature-controlled tanks—an innovation adopted by Château Haut- Brion in Bordeaux nine years later. In 1957, the winery also became the first in the New World to base its estate program around the use of French oak barrels. "The winery was a quantum leap forward of anything that had been done in the past," said Hanzell Vineyards Winemaker Michael McNeill, who co-hosted the seminar with General Manager Jason Jardine and Master Sommelier Bob Bath. While tasting through the stellar col - lection of Hanzell Chardonnays from the 1996, 2000, 2002, 2010, and 2015 vintages, not only did the classic estate notes of stone fruit immediately come to life, but so did intriguing nuances of citrus, mineral, sandalwood, herbs, vanillin, and subtle spices. The same was true with the older wines. While tasting the 1977 vintage, for instance, Bath noted that as the fruit fla - vors subsided over time, more of the site's distinctive character started to emerge through tertiary notes of flowers, nuts, herbs, and earth. Beyond the terraced Chardonnay vine - yards cascading down the Mayacamas to the east and Sonoma Mountain to the west, a multitude of pristine sites can be found on the valley floor as well. Among them is the Green Acres Vineyard, located on the northern edge of the Los Carneros appel - lation just south of Sonoma. Owned and farmed by iconic winegrower Angelo San- giacomo and his family, Green Acres is the first of 11 sites the Sangiacomos developed in the southern segment of the valley. To discuss the attributes of the vine- yard's blocks at the SSV Sangiacomo Im- mersion seminar, Master Sommelier David Y oshida was joined by Angelo's sons Steve and Mike of Sangiacomo Family Vineyards, as well as a group of talented winemakers who sourced fruit from the vineyard in 2015. "When we talk about Chardonnay, the [comparison to] Burgundy can be a double-edged sword," said Yoshida. "It's a great comparison, especially as a reference point, but California has its distinct style. For that reason, there is certainly a place on all of the wine lists I work with, as well as in my cellar, where I place California next to Burgundy." Yoshida isn't the only expert to position Californian Chardonnay on the higher Burgundian standard, and considering the evolution of viniculture and viticulture in the Golden State, he won't be the last. PHOTO: JON MCPHERSON A winery with a view: Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, where the property's first two acres of Chardonnay vines were planted in 1953. New Gold Dreams SIGNATURE SONOMA VALLEY EXPLORES CHARDONNAY'S COME UP IN CALIFORNIA by Chris Sawyer

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