2018 Chardonnay '304'
"I’ve always felt inspired when visiting Chablis, for it is here in these dramatic hillside vineyards situated off by themselves -- equidistant between Burgundy and Paris -- that Chardonnay seems to be at its purest. I traveled there several times annually during my time with Kermit Lynch -- we imported wines from eight different properties in the area -- but my most memorable trip was in 2009 when I was accompanied by our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt. While enjoying the 2008 Chablis from Roland Lavantureux on a chilly Monday morning in the cellar of Domaine Lavantureux, I noticed Tadeo off in a corner, talking animatedly with Roland and his son David. It seemed odd to me, as Tadeo speaks very little French and they both speak even less English, but Tadeo later informed me that they all spoke Spanish. The conversation centered around Chardonnay made with no oak contact. Both Lavantureux father and son had their own ideas on the subject, and Tadeo was attempting to learn from these traditional winemakers.
Later that night, back in our hotel in Beaune, I asked Tadeo about the conversation, and he excitedly reported to me that he had found a new Chardonnay vineyard in southern Sonoma County, in the coldest part of the Carneros District, and he thought that with its combination of low pH and high natural acidity it would be ideal for a Chablis-style wine. Moreover, it lay in the middle of an old creek bed that had been diverted 50 years ago, so the ground was covered with rocks. Plus, it was planted to an heirloom Chardonnay selection, known as ‘Shot-Wente’. The vineyard was owned by Paul Larson, a third-generation grower in the area. Tadeo’s interest in the grapes from this parcel only grew after talking to Roland and David and hearing how their winemaking practices could be adapted to our process. They had developed a system whereby the yeast lees from the fermenting wine were drawn out of the racking valve at the bottom of the tank, then slowly circulated over the top of the must, using a rotating stainless steel shower head. The extra yeast lees contact resulted in additional flavor and stability, and helped the lees settle compactly before the final racking.
We made our first wine using this technique in 2010 and called it Chardonnay ‘304’ after the name for the stainless steel fermentation tanks used in the wine industry. Stainless Steel Grade 304 is made from the addition of between 30 and 40% Nickle and Chromium, making it impervious to food acids. For us, it was simply a subtle way to indicate the absence of oak influence. The finished wine undergoes about 40% Malo-lactic fermentation and is lightly filtered at bottling. It has a refreshing natural crispness to it, along with a delicious citric element of lemon and lime. It finishes fresh and vibrant and is low in alcohol. It goes well with a wide variety of foods – I’ve enjoyed it with oysters everywhere -- but at Maple & Ash in Chicago recently, a bottle was especially well matched with their magnificent line-caught Dover Sole. Most importantly, over the years I’ve had hundreds of tasters tell me it has revitalized their interest in California Chardonnay. Now that’s encouraging!" - Bruce Neyers