2018 Chardonnay '304'
At Neyers Vineyards, we use the term ‘304’ to distinguish our bottling of Chardonnay fermented in stainless steel. It’s a wine made with no oak contact. The term ‘304’ was coined by the steel industry for ‘food grade’ stainless steel which has been used for high quality fermentation tanks since Ch. Latour introduced the idea to the wine world in the early 1960’s. It’s thought to have its roots in the metallurgy of this process which involves the addition of 30-40 percent Nickle and Chromium to normal steel during the smelting process. Our three other bottlings of Chardonnay are all fermented in and subsequently aged in 60-gallon French oak barrels. For years, my fondness for French Chablis has had us searching for the right combination of grapes and winemaking techniques to more closely approximate this style of wine. We needed to find Chardonnay fruit grown under especially cold conditions in order to ensure a high level of natural acidity and a lower than normal pH, both necessary to reach the balance essential to this style of wine. Moreover, we wanted those grapes to be grown on soils that were rocky, in order to maximize the mineral character in the finished wine.
We found two vineyards that gave us these components -- the Paul Larson Vineyard on Burndale Road in Sonoma Carneros (a vineyard only a few hundred yards removed from the northern-most reach of the San Francisco Bay) and the Trinchero Family Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Both properties reach optimum maturity late in the growing season, and the cold weather and rocky soil is well suited for our style.
The fruit is harvested by hand, then whole-cluster pressed to yield bright, crisp juice. The fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tanks (made from Stainless Steel 304) with a mix of native and dry-active yeast strains, and the wine is then aged four months on the natural yeast lees to increase flavor, texture and stability. We filter the wine just before bottling, which typically leaves the secondary or malo-lactic fermentation less than 50% complete. The result is a fresh, crisp wine with no external oak flavor to interfere with the attractive lemon-lime component natural to cold climate Chardonnay.
The winter months in California are the best time for Barbara’s favorite local seafood, the Pacific Sand Dab, and it’s difficult to imagine a more suitable pairing for a chilled bottle. I personally prefer it with Dungeness Crab though, but I suspect we’ll be spending a lot of time over the next few years looking in to this disagreement. - Bruce Neyers