Up-close with Chardonnay from Taste of Vail
VAIL, Colorado A wine tasting seminar where winemakers rotate among tables and provide 12 minutes of devoted, individualized talk time to loyal fans in Vail, Colorado, is not only savvy marketing but an educational breakthrough as well. Consumers buy when there is a personal connection, a story to be told. Who better to convey stories than the winemakers or proprietors themselves?Last weeks Taste of Vail event featured a Chardonnay Matchmaking seminar, which poured six Chardonnays.Each winemaker was asked what sets them apart from the rest. Why would a consumer buy this wine?
Bernard Retornaz, president of Latour North America, is a Frenchman representing the Burgundian region Meursault. Retornaz speaks of the incredible history of Latour, 220 years of footprints. Burgundy is 60 miles long and one mile wide, he said. We only grow 100 percent Chardonnay or 100 percent Pinot Noir. No irrigation is allowed. Something unique to this wine is that since viticulture rules are so strict in Burgundy, finesse has to occur with winemaking.Another nuance: Latour believes new barrels for aging are restrained, closed and contain much tannins not desirable to impart to the wines. Therefore, Latour coopers their own barrels and lets them sit outside in the elements for three years before any wine is aged in them.Wine poured: 2006 Les Charmes, Meursault, Premier Cru, Louis Latour, 13.5 percent alcohol. Elegant, subtle, refined.
Stephen Vivier, winemaker for HdV, Hyde Vineyard, located in Napa and Carneros, grew up in Burgundy and describes how he has imparted some of the strict Burgundian vineyard rules to his wines. He does not irrigate during the growing season, uncommon for a Californian vintner.I am a caretaker of the vine, Vivier said. My goal is to put into your glass a picture of the vineyard. I am there each day to make the day perfect to show how the fruit can speak.The differentiating factor for Viviers wines is the soil.We have an alluvial soil which is quite shallow, he said. It is three feet deep with clay and bedrock below. This allows water retention so our vines dig deep for water during the summer months. This imparts a minerality to the wines. Additionally, after 12 months in oak, the wine is transferred to stainless steel for another three months to retain brightness and focus. Wine poured: 2005 HdV, Hyde Vineyard, Napa and Carneros. Minerality, elegance, structure.
Cameron Frey, associate winemaker for Ramey, speaks of the similarities and differences with HdV. Technically part of Hyde Vineyard, Ramey vines are grown alongside HdVs vines. For this reason, a side-by-side comparison was very interesting.The most important decision for a Winemaker is when to pick the grapes, Frey said. Ramey has planted a small cluster clone called Wente. We picked these grapes three weeks after traditional harvest, at the end of September, three weeks behind HdV.Cameron imparts minimal intervention in his winemaking process: no addition of acid, indigenous yeast fermentation as a way to coax the vineyard to express itself and encouragement of oxygen early on.Wine poured: 2006 Ramey, Hyde Vineyard, Napa and Carneros. Tropical, stone fruit, round mouth-feel.
Donald Patz, co-owner from Patz and Hall, indicates they do not grow their own grapes but rather source them and produce the wine. Patz seeks growers with key characteristics that emulate the best viticulturists of the world. These characteristics include high acid, low PH, concentrated flavors, low yielding sites and excellent soil.We have made a wine that is delicate and not super concentrated, less flower-like, he said. The soil growing Zio Tonys vines has a good deal of iron, clay and gravel, this in turn imparts a great deal of complexity to the wine.Wine poured: 2006 Patz and Hall, Zio Tony Ranch, Russian River Valley. Roasted hazelnut, delicate and feminine.
Gary Brookman, winemaker for Miner Vineyards, explains how years ago he forgot to inoculate some of the wine he was making with cultured yeast. Fermentation still occurred and the wine made was very pleasing and exiting. Brookman sent samples to University of California, Berkeley to analyze the wild yeast strain he was growing. He discovered that several yeasts were present, some which fed on other yeasts, while one strain prevailed and was able to actually ferment the wine and produce alcohol. Our natural fermentation process takes about four to five days, and the end results add texture and complexity that you dont find with cultured yeast strains, he said.Wine poured: 2006 Miner, Wild Yeast, Napa Valley. Nutmeg, tropical fruits, unfiltered, viscous.
Greg La Follette, winemaker for Tandem, introduced the new Dijon 809 clone to a new American Viticulture Area, Manchester Ridge. The clone speaks to a feminine, floral side of Chardonnay and actually has a Muscat-like aroma.Mendocino Ridge Appellation is two and a half years old and is located at over 2,000 feet elevation on the first ridge in from the Mendocino coastline, La Follette said. This vineyard is one of the most daring projects planted in California. Wine poured: 2006 Tandem, Manchester Ridge, Mendocino. Floral, tropical, and stone fruit. Any of these Chardonnays would be a worthy choice to consume, all retailing in the mid-50 range, and now you can taste with the winemaker insights as some of your guideposts.Patricia Kloehn lives in Edwards. She is a currently taking the diploma course for the WSET school in London (Wine, Spirit, Education & Trust), which is the precursor to the Master of Wine program. E-mail her at email@example.com.