A Benchmark Napa Valley Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Stony Hill Vineyard

Stony Hill Vineyard is a highly regarded winery located on Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley, and contrary to many properties in Napa they are known for their white wines. The history of Stony Hill begins in 1943 when Fred and Eleanor McCrea purchased 168 acres of land tucked into the slopes of Spring Mountain. The McCrea’s loved French white wines, particularly white Burgundy, so they established their winery in 1951 and released their first wines in 1952 with a focus on Chardonnay. As time went on, Fred and Eleanor planted additional white varieties of Pinot Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Semillon. Until 2009 the estate was fully dedicated to white wines and they released their first estate red wine with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a sign that Cabernet truly is king in the Napa Valley.

With Fred’s passing in 1977, Mike Chelini who had been assistant winemaker since 1972 took over the reins as head winemaker of Stony Hill. Mike was a dedicated winemaker here for four decades, continuing the philosophy and practices he learned from Fred while maintaining Stony Hill as a premium Napa producer who sold mainly to select clients. The property was purchased by the Lawrence Family (who also own Brendel Wines, Burgess Cellars, Heitz Cellar, and various vineyards) in 2020 and they brought along a new winemaker named Jaimee Motley. Jaimee seeks to maintain the history and winemaking style present at Stony Hill since its founding, though certainly with a new emphasis on the red wine portfolio.

The Stony Hill vineyards are set on steep terraces in the Spring Mountain AVA, and they total about 30 acres. Ranging in elevation of 800 and 1,550 feet, the vineyards receive a plethora of moderating influences and sit on a bed of volcanic mountain soils with limestone underneath. Stony Hill has been certified organic since 2019, and they have plans over the years to come to include more regenerative farming techniques like the inclusion of livestock. The property also has about 15 acres of fallow land, which will someday see more plantings of Merlot and Syrah with new plantings of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Gamay, Petit Verdot, and Chenin Blanc.

A quick note on Stony Hill’s Chardonnay… The Chardonnay here is produced today the same way it was in 1952, with an emphasis on blocking malolactic fermentation and aging exclusively in neutral oak which is often ten years old. This produces a very linear and mineral-driven Chardonnay with good acid that bodes well for long aging in the cellar.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2015 Chardonnay is medium gold in color and transparent in the glass. After about 30 minutes in the glass, this blossoms with aromas of medium (+) intensity and a nose of crisp yellow apple, lemon zest, white peach, stone fruit, white lily, flint, saline, and brioche. The flavors on the palate are also of medium (+) intensity, showcasing notes of lime zest, white peach, apricot, honey, white florals, lemongrass, stony mineral, and hazelnut. This dry white is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality and in a pretty nice spot right now.

Price: $77. From a pure “value” perspective, these are becoming quite stretched as prices rose over the years. While there’s no denying this is a great Chardonnay with good balance, intensity, and complexity, you can find similar quality for $50 or sometimes less.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it. Unfortunately purchasing options are limited and the best bet may be ordering directly from the winery.

Elegant Bottling From a Historical Spring Mountain Estate

Today’s Story: Spring Mountain Vineyard

Spring Mountain Vineyard is a large estate and winery comprised of what used to be three unique properties, each with their own vineyards and wineries. Spring Mountain Vineyards (Miravalle) consisted of 257 acres, Chateau Chevalier (Chevalier) of 120 acres, and Draper Vineyards (La Perla) of 435 acres before being combined. La Perla is the uppermost and oldest portion of today’s estate, established in 1873 by Charles Lemme and home to the first Cabernet Sauvignon planted on Spring Mountain. La Perla expanded from 285 acres to 435, largely thanks to the addition of the vineyard just below it planted by Fredrick and Jacob Beringer in 1882. To the north of Beringer’s vineyard was Chateau Chevalier, whose winemaking presence began in 1891, and next door was Miravalle. To learn more about these historic estates and their eventual culmination into Spring Mountain Vineyard, check out the website here. Today, SMV consists of 850 acres on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain with roughly 226 acres planted to vine that are broken into 135 small vineyard blocks.

Whether or not you check their website regarding the three original properties linked above, I highly recommend browsing their intensely-detailed winemaking page here and the equally intensive vineyard page here. Though there is far too much detail for me to delve into here, I will try to highlight that the vines are very densely planted to reduce yields and produce concentrated, naturally ripened fruit while utilizing sustainable practices. In the cellar, Spring Mountain Vineyard separates their vineyard lots, ferments using only natural yeasts, usually bottles the wines unfined, and adds minimal SO2. The winery is also incredibly proud of their 100% estate bottling process.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec; 13.6% ABV

The 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is opaque deep ruby in color. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, ripe blueberry, black raspberry, tobacco, loamy earth, black pepper, slight baking spice, and mocha. Once on the palate, this beauty displays notes of blackcurrant, juicy plum, black cherry, pipe tobacco, charred earth, gravel, coffee grounds, ground herbs, and chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined medium tannins, and a long finish. Supremely elegant and well-crafted.

Price: $150 direct from winery (but I got this at an absolute STEAL of $50 at a Los Angeles wine store). $150 is probably pushing it on a value perspective, but at $100 or less this is a must-try. The quality and elegance of this wine is truly living up to the estate’s name. Pair this with filet mignon, lamb, or charcuterie and cheese.