California’s Grand Cru Chardonnays
“The greatest Chardonnay vineyards of Burgundy-Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne, to name two—bask in near universal acclaim from the world’s wine collectors. For centuries, winemakers have coveted the fruit from these grand crus, which are concentrated within walking distance of the town of Beaune.
“In California, winemakers also have identified their top sites for Chardonnay—vineyards that make wonderful, distinctive and sometimes ageworthy wines year after year. But unlike Burgundy, these prized plots are scattered along more than 300 miles, from northern Sonoma County to Santa Barbara.
“Many are just two or three decades old, but a few go back to the 1960s, and at least one dates to pre-Prohibition. Our California reviewers give their picks of the state’s grand cru Chardonnay vineyards and call out the producers making wines from them…
“RITCHIE VINEYARD, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY Farmed since 1972 by Kent Ritchie, a Detroit transplant and former semipro hockey player, the vineyard is a place that winemakers revere as a site of rare intensity and complexity, located along Eastside Road near Forestville.
“Smack dab in the middle of the Russian River Valley appellation, its climate is a great balance of cooling ocean fog and slightly warmer inland temperatures,” says winemaker David Ramey, who has worked with the site for 15 years. “There’s always great acidity, but…the slightly inland location provides an extra richness that adds to the deliciousness.”
“Next in terms of importance, Ramey says, is the soil, which is Goldridge loam speckled with gravel. It provides great drainage while limiting vine vigor and yield. Third, the clone, the majority of which is Old Wente, provides what he believes to be a classic Chardonnay profile without tropical fruit notes.
“Next, vine age,” Ramey says. “It’s rare to have access to 45-year-old Chardonnay. This, I think, is where the depth and length on the palate comes from. And lastly, the careful attention of Kent Ritchie, who oversees the farming with a detailed eye…”
“WINES: Arista, Aubert, De Loach, Flanagan, Joseph Swan, Paul Hobbs, Ramey, Red Car, Ten Acre…
“HYDE VINEYARD, CARNEROS Chardonnay is priority No. l at 200-acre Hyde, where the oldest block is 35 years old. Grower Larry Hyde suspects It’s one of the oldest Chardonnay blocks in California, still on AXR rootstock and challenged by phylloxera, the cuttings first procured from Wente. Hyde has donated Chardonnay clones to Foundation Plant Services at University of California (Davis) to be heat-treated and made available to the public, Including one known as the Hyde clone.
“WINES: Aubert, Demaine Carneros, Hyde & Sons, Hyde de Villaine, Kongsgaard, Miner, Patz & Hall, Paul Hobbs, Ramey, Saxon Brown…”