Fresh, Vibrant, and Fun Coastal Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Lady of the Sunshine

Lady of the Sunshine was established in 2017 by Gina Hildebrand with a focus on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir sourced from organic and biodynamic vineyards in California’s Central Coast. Gina grew an appreciation and passion for wine growing up thanks to spending a lot of time at her family’s winery Narrow Gate Vineyards, though it also helped her discover the importance of biodynamic farming which her family also practices. With Lady of the Sunshine, Gina sources fruit from organically farmed vineyards at a minimum and, since early 2018, personally farms Chêne Vineyard and transitioned it to biodynamics with Demeter certification earlier this year.

When it comes to winemaking itself, Gina crafts fun wines meant to emphasize the terroir and her farming practices through minimal intervention in the cellar. All of the Lady of the Sunshine wines are fermented with native yeasts and see minimal sulfur additions in neutral oak. The wines are stirred from the lees only once for bottling, with all bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Chêne Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The 2018 Chêne Vineyard Chardonnay is transparent medium to deep gold in color. Given some time to open up in the glass, the wine showcases aromas of lemon citrus, crisp golden apple, stone fruit, white lily, brioche, flint rock, and saline mineral. Moving to the palate, I get notes of green apple, slightly underripe pear, baked pineapple, lime zest, olive oil, sea salt, and lightly toasted hazelnut and almond. This is medium- to full-bodied with vibrant high acidity, a plush and somewhat oily mouthfeel, and a long finish.

Price: $34. I think this is very fairly priced and it’s a very fun, clean, vibrant Central Coast Chardonnay. I really like how the low alcohol and minimal intervention winemaking makes this a true representation of the terroir and transports you to the coast.

Delightful Oregon Chardonnay With Burgundian Flair

Today’s Story: Lingua Franca

Lingua Franca was established in 2015 by Master Sommelier Larry Stone and his partners Dominique Lafon and winemaker Thomas Savre. Lafon is a legend of Burgundy in his own right, and his protégé Thomas Savre has many impressive names on his resume as well. Larry purchased Janzen Farm, which would become Lingua Franca, at the very end of 2012 and immediately set about planning for 23 vineyard blocks varying by rootstock and budwood. Though he and his team initially planned on selling fruit rather than making their own wine, Lafon suggested producing estate bottlings in 2014 and they officially began the endeavor in 2015 with Savre on board.

Lingua Franca puts vital importance on not only the vineyards themselves, but how they are cared for. Since its foundation, Lingua Franca farms using low-impact organic and biodynamic principles such as no-till farming and maintaining a permanent cover crop to improve soil biodiversity. Instead of using chemicals, the team encourages nesting of hawks, owls, foxes, and coyotes to fend off any unwanted visitors. When it comes to winemaking itself, Savre and team stick to Burgundian traditions and seek to produce wines truly representative of their place.

To learn more about Lingua Franca, the team, and the wines, I encourage you to visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Avni Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2016 Avni Chardonnay is transparent pale to medium gold in color with straw variation near the rim. Given some time to open up in the glass, the nose showcases aromas of golden pear, lemon zest, brioche, toasted almond, matchstick, limestone, and stony mineral. There are also some gorgeous herbal aromas. On the palate, the wine shows notes of lemon, stone fruit, crisp golden apple, apricot, mild smoke, flint rock, wet stone, and saline mineral. This is medium-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity and a plush, well-rounded mouthfeel into a long finish.

Price: $35. I think this is an outstanding value Chardonnay, standing up with some of the Chardonnays I’ve enjoyed for twice its price. This is also rather Burgundian in style, which helps the case with me!

Mouthwatering Single Vineyard Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Rivers-Marie

Last week I enjoyed the 2015 Silver Eagle Vineyard Pinot Noir from Rivers-Marie so much that I decided to revisit the producer for a Chardonnay.

To recap from my post last week, Rivers-Marie is a family-owned winery established in 2002 by husband and wife duo Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Welsh. Thomas and Genevieve work with vineyards throughout the Sonoma Coast (especially in Occidental-Freestone) and produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa fruit as well. All of the Rivers-Marie wines are meant to be refined and terroir driven, showcasing each unique vineyard site through single vineyard bottlings. This being said, they produce some appellation wines as well.

Today’s Wine: 2012 B. Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.8% ABV

The 2012 B. Thieriot Chardonnay is gorgeous deep gold in color and transparent. This was singing right out of the bottle but blossomed further as it opened in the glass and warmed slightly. The nose showcases aromas of golden apple, crisp pear, stone fruit, honeysuckle, flint, toasted nuts, sea shell, saline mineral, and dried vanilla bean. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of green apple skins, mango, lemon zest, tropical citrus, toffee, slight smoke, dill, wax, saline, and brioche. This is medium-bodied and well-rounded with high acidity and a long, lingering finish.

Price: $100. This is pricey for a California Chardonnay no doubt, but I would certainly buy this again. While clearly a California Chardonnay thanks to the fruit profile, there are a lot of characteristics of Burgundy here and both the quality and depth are compelling. Pair with roasted chicken, lobster, or asparagus and shaved hazelnut.

Breathtaking Chassagne-Montrachet

Today’s Story: Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey

To say Pierre-Yves Colin was a rising star turned legend in Chassagne-Montrachet over the last decade or so might be an understatement. Pierre-Yves started working with his father Marc Colin (the Burgundian legend in his own right) in 1994 and became winemaker until the 2005 vintage when he decided to branch out into his own venture. Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey was established by Pierre-Yves and his wife Caroline Morey (daughter of Jean-Marc Morey) and spawned out of a negociant business the couple started in 2001. Pierre-Yves inherited 6 hectares from his family and purchases fruit from carefully selected growers, but there is no question he knows all of this terroir like the back of his hand. When making his wines, Pierre-Yves presses the fruit very slowly and at higher pressures than normal, racks directly into 350L barrels for natural fermentation, never stirs the lees, and diverts his wine by gravity into his cellar. Pierre-Yves’ wines spend two winters aging in the cellar before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Whether it be thanks to the intense attention to terroir, his winemaking practices, or any minute decision he makes throughout the year, there is no question that Pierre-Yves’ wines are something special.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2017 Chassagne-Montrachet is transparent pale gold in color with water white variation near the rim. I recommend decanting this wine due to its youth, but try to keep it a few degrees below cellar temperature as you do. The nose showcases aromas of ripe golden pear, yellow apple skins, white lily, matchstick, incense, cotton candy, white pepper, and crushed stone minerality; the matchstick and incense are most pronounced. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of lemon, honeydew melon, stone fruit, white wildflowers, smoke, white tea, and saline mineral. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with beautiful and vibrant high acidity into a long, well-rounded finish. This continued to get better as it opened up over a couple hours, but will be unbelievable with a few more years of cellaring.

Price: $100. Though not an inexpensive bottle of wine, the PYCM Chassagne-Montrachet is actually quite a good value because it drinks significantly better than even the highest quality village wines. Though I certainly popped the cork too soon on this, the precision, depth, complexity, and quality are all there to make this a necessity in your cellar. Pair with lobster, foie gras, or blue cheese.

Lean Chardonnay That Begins With the Farmers

Today’s Story: Matthiasson Family Vineyards

Matthiasson Family Vineyards is a small winery established in 2003 by Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson. Steve grew up passionate about farming, passing time as a gardener and cook while in college before co-writing the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices in 1999 after graduate school for horticulture. Jill is also passionate for farming, particularly the sustainability side of it, and she studied botany at Penn before ultimately attending UC Davis for grad school studying traditional methods for soil health.

Matthiasson is probably most well-known for their Napa Valley White Wine (an interesting blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Ribolla Gialla, and Tocai Friulano), but they also either grow or source (often by lease) Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc amongst other varieties. Steve and Jill maintain their own vineyard in the West Oak Knoll area, while sourcing from others throughout the Napa Valley and Sonoma County including Red Hen, Bengier, and Linda Vista amongst others. All of the vineyards are either organically farmed or transitioning to organic viticulture, and as you might guess Steve and Jill believe great wine starts in the vineyards. Steve is pretty involved in each vineyard they source fruit from, catering farming practices to each specific one so that no matter the source their fruit is healthy and fully ripe. Coupled with his traditional winemaking methods, the Matthiasson wines come out beautifully balanced with lower levels of alcohol and gorgeous acidity.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 12.2% ABV

The 2018 Linda Vista Chardonnay is transparent pale straw/gold in color with water white variation near the rim. Once this opens up in the glass, the nose emits aromas of golden apple, underripe pear, lemon citrus, honeysuckle, chamomile, vanilla, and saline mineral. On the palate, I get notes of white peach, golden apple skins, melon, tropical citrus, white lily, brioche toast, crushed stone mineral, and light spice. The wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity into a long, refreshing finish.

Price: $28 ($32 direct from winery). This is an outstanding value for Napa Chardonnay. While many competitors can be flabby or have far too much oak, this is lean and drinks with beautiful precision (almost feels Burgundian). Pair with roasted chicken, oysters, or salmon.

Mouthwatering Village Level Chablis

Today’s Story: Domaine Moreau-Naudet

Domaine Moreau-Naudet is a small estate located in the Chablis region of northern Burgundy. Though Moreau-Naudet has been a family-run domaine for quite some time, it was 1999 when Stéphane Moreau joined his father and drastically shifted the winemaking practices. Stéphane transitioned to fully organic viticulture alongside biodynamic practices, started harvesting his vineyards completely by hand, and practiced a minimal intervention winemaking style that includes natural yeast fermentation, slow élevage in large oak barrels, and minimal added sulphur. Stéphane was a nonconformist for Chablis in this sense, and took significant inspiration from Vincent Dauvissat, Didier Dagueneau, and Nadi Foucault. Sadly, Stéphane passed away incredibly too young (in his upper 40s) in 2016 and the future of the domaine fell to questioning. Shortly thereafter, however, Stéphane’s wife Virginie and his assistant winemaker displayed great adeptness by stepping in and remaining steadfast to Stéphane’s philosophy and style then and to this day.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Chablis

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2017 Chablis is medium gold in color with water white variation near the rim. Give this 30 minutes to an hour to open up and you will be handsomely rewarded. The nose showcases aromas of white peach, lemon peel, stone fruit, summer melon, honeysuckle, and chalky mineral. On the palate, I get notes of lemon zest, baked pineapple, quince, green apple skins, white florals, flint, and saline mineral. This is medium-bodied with vibrant high acidity and a well-rounded mouthfeel into a long, mouthwatering finish. While the wine doesn’t have as much depth as I was hoping for, its precision makes up for that and makes me excited to try it again in a few years.

Price: $35 (though you can find this cheaper, especially in Europe). This is a great value and it’s hard to believe this is a village wine thanks to its finesse and precision. Would love to try this again in a few years. Pair with oysters, snails with garlic butter, or gougères.

Stunning California Chardonnay – for Half the Price it Should Be

Today’s Story: Chanin Wine Co.

I recently wrote about Chanin when I reviewed the 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir in Elegant Pinot Noir From Santa Barbara County, though if you missed it I recreated the winery’s background below.

Chanin Wine Co. was established in 2007 by winemaker Gavin Chanin, and his goal is to produce single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. Gavin selected the vineyards to source his fruit based on their organic (or at minimum sustainable) farming practices while also seeking older vines. The current vineyard selections include Sanford & Benedict in the Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley, and Duvarita just west of the Sta. Rita Hills. Gavin eschews higher alcohol levels in his wines to foster balance and finesse, while practicing gentle winemaking methods and avoiding additives such as commercial yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes. All of Chanin’s wines are bottled unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2015 Bien Nacido Chardonnay is gorgeous deep gold in color and transparent. This was beautiful out of the bottle, but really opened up after an hour in the glass and continued to change with the nose showcasing aromas of lemon zest, white peach, golden pear, stone fruit, white florals and honeysuckle, dry/dusty gravel, brioche, faint dried vanilla bean, spice, and stone minerality. On the palate, I get notes of golden apple skins, baked pear, peach, lemon and lime citrus, white lily, crushed rock, hazelnut, exotic spice, saline minerality, and very light toasted oak. This is full-bodied with beautiful medium (+) acidity and a remarkably well-rounded mouthfeel into a long, lingering finish that makes you yearn for another sip. 23 barrels produced.

Price: $39. This wine is a ridiculous value. Not only are the complexity, precision, and depth something to write home about, this stands up to a significant amount of high-quality white Burgundy I’ve enjoyed over the years. I truly must applaud Gavin Chanin for this exceptional bottling. Pair with hazelnut-crusted roast chicken, smoked whitefish, or lobster.

Beautifully Refreshing Bourgogne Blanc

Today’s Story: Domaine Pierre Boisson

Domaine Pierre Boisson is one of three family domaines who all work together and make their wines in the same cellar located in Meursault. Pierre, alongside his father Bernard (Domaine Boisson-Vadot) and sister Anne (Domaine Anne Boisson) watches over the family domaine which encompasses 8.5 hectares primarily situated in Meursault but with smaller holdings in Auxey-Duresses, Monthelie, Pommard, and Beaune. The family doesn’t use any chemical fertilizer or pesticides in their vineyards and, at time for harvest, everything is accomplished manually. Pierre, like Bernard and Anne, practices traditional Burgundian winemaking methods and accomplishes fermentation using only native yeasts. Though the wines will see some new oak (typically never more than 25-30% for the high-end and lower for village bottlings), there is no set percentage and it varies vintage to vintage and wine to wine with the goal of never masking a wine’s true character. All wines are bottled unfiltered at the domaine.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Bourgogne Blanc

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2017 Bourgogne Blanc is a beautiful pale gold in color with hues of straw and water white. On the nose, this emits aromas of lemon zest, white peach, pear, tangerine, white florals, hazelnut, saline minerality, and light oak. Once on the palate, this displays notes of lemon and lime zest, green apple skins, golden pear, tropical citrus, honeysuckle, saline mineral, and dried vanilla bean. The wine is medium-bodied with vibrant high acidity into a crisp and refreshing finish.

Price: $40 (much cheaper in Europe). I thought this was an outstanding value for White Burg and this bottle was perfect for the hot weather I enjoyed with it yesterday. Pair this with roasted chicken, Dover sole, or crab.

Exquisite Chardonnay From a Violent Terroir

Today’s Story: The Hilt

The Hilt is a small, relatively young winery located in the rough, rugged, and windswept Santa Rita Hills AVA about 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The Hilt is a sister winery to Jonata, whose wines I reviewed three times prior, and falls under support of Stan Kroenke who owns the LA Rams and Screaming Eagle. The Hilt shares an adept winemaker in Matt Dees with Jonata, and similarly provides him a vast and difficult terroir ranging in soil type, altitude, and microclimates to craft wine. The Hilt’s fruit, consisting only of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, comes from vines that are forced to dig deep for nutrients, face brutal maritime winds, and yield small numbers of concentrated grapes.

The Hilt consists of three vineyards named Bentrock, Radian, and Puerto del Mar. Bentrock is made up of long, rolling hills roughly 400-500 feet above sea level and totals roughly 92 acres of which just under 80 are planted to Pinot Noir and just over 13 are planted to Chardonnay. Radian differs greatly in that its terrain is rugged and steep where, at its highest point, grapes face fierce winds at 700 feet elevation. Consisting of just over 100 acres, Radian is planted to 95 acres of Pinot Noir and only 6.1 acres of Chardonnay. The Puerto del Mar vineyard sources much of the fruit for The Hilt’s Estate wines, and also houses the winery where Matt Dees goes to work in the cellars. Typically Bentrock fruit sits at the core of The Vanguard bottlings, Radian at the core of The Old Guard bottlings, and a blend at the core of the Estate bottlings.

You can read more about the winery and their offerings (including tech sheets) at the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Cuvée Fleur Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.2% ABV

The 2016 Cuvée Fleur is vibrant medium to deep gold in color. Once this opens up in the glass, the incredibly expressive nose showcases aromas of melon, yellow apple, jackfruit, white florals, vanilla, beeswax, exotic spice, and saline mineral. In the mouth, this beauty displays notes of lemon, pineapple, stone fruit, honeysuckle, almond, dill, flint, saline mineral, and mild oak. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity and a well-rounded, lengthy finish. This is a beautiful Burgundian-style Chardonnay made exclusively for Wally’s in Los Angeles and will only get better with a few more years of bottle age.

Price: $45. This is priced closely with the standard Hilt Chardonnay and delivers similarly great value, however it is more difficult to acquire since it appears Wally’s is the only carrier. Pair this with lobster, herb-roasted chicken, or halibut.

Pioneer of the Russian River Valley

Today’s Story: Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Gary Farrell is one of the great pioneering winemakers in the Russian River Valley, playing a big role in marketing the area and Sonoma County as a whole as one of the greatest regions for Pinot Noir before the Russian River Valley even had its own AVA status. During the 1970s, Gary apprenticed under legends including Joe Rochioli, Robert Stemmler, Davis Bynum, and Tom Dehlinger before landing his first winemaker gig at Davis Bynum Winery in 1978. Though Gary shortly became involved in early releases at Rochioli Winery, Limerick Lane, and Moshin Vineyards, he produced his first namesake wine, a Pinot Noir, in the 1982 vintage using fruit from the famed Rochioli Vineyard. Making a name for himself by producing quality RRV Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Gary expanded his winery during the 1990s by developing the Starr Ridge and Cresta Ridge vineyards before ultimately constructing a production facility in Healdsburg. Gary sold his namesake brand in 2004, however, and later sold his vineyard properties and started Alysian Wines focused on small quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Westside Farms Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.9% ABV

The 2014 Westside Farms Chardonnay is medium gold and almost straw in color while being completely transparent. On the nose, this wine showcases aromas of golden pear, apricot, white peach, lemongrass, honeysuckle, butter, toast, vanilla, and some white spicy minerality. Once in the mouth, this Chardonnay displays notes of green apple, tropical citrus, lemon and lime zest, starfruit, jasmine, vanilla cream, and saline minerality. This is medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity leading into a crisp finish that lingers with you for quite some time.

Price: $50. I could see almost any California Chardonnay drinker enjoying this wine for its classic notes while being not too overly butter-bombed, however I think at this stage it seems to be a little out of balance and needs a couple more years of cellaring to settle. Pair this with lobster, crab, citrus-spiced chicken, or asparagus salad.