Varietal Voyage No.7 – 2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay

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Varietal Voyage

This week we leave behind our final chenin blanc and move on to the next varietal on the list: Chardonnay! For this particular wine we are travelling south from Mendocino to the Grgich Hills Estate near the southern tip of Napa Valley.

Grgich Hills Estate is an interesting venture that began in 1977 between master winemaker, Mike Grgich and Austin Hills of the Hills Brothers Coffee conglomerate. Today they own 366 acres spanning across five top quality vineyards. To keep quality high, they concentrate on just six different types of wines (Fumé Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Violetta). Another interesting fact is that all of the Grgich Hills vineyards are sustainable and “biodynamically” farmed. Think “organic” on steroids! Biodynamic farming is a philosophy that treats the Earth as a living organism. Only natural preparations, cosmic rhythms, and nature’s own basic elements are used to create a harmonious balance between vineyard and Earth.

If you have ever heard of the “Judgment of Paris” then you probably have heard of Mike Grgich. He is the winemaker (then working for Chateau Montelena), that was responsible for creating the award winning chardonnay (1973 Chateau Montelena) that beat out all of the French wines in a 1976 blind tasting. This was arguably the watershed event that put California on the map as force to be reckoned with in the wine making world. One could go on talking about this event for hours. If you want to know more, I would suggest reading George Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris.

The 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay is created from grapes grown at the Grgich Hills Estate’s Carneros and American Canyon vineyards. These two properties are nestled in the valley near the San Pablo Bay where the cool ocean breezes and fog help maintain the grapes’ natural fruit character and crisp acidity. 2006 also happens to be the first vintage from these vineyards that was certified as “biodynamic.”

This Chardonnay was quite different from many of the other’s we have tried over the years. In the past, many were over oaked and many saw some malolactic fermentation. The resulting wines were usually very buttery, masking much of the natural fruit character of the grapes. The 2006 NV was nothing like those earlier wines. It was clear from the first taste that the winemakers chose not to use any malolactic fermentation, allowing the bright acidity and complex flavors of apples, lemon, and pineapples to shine through. The winemakers also chose to ferment and age the wine carefully in a mix of old and new oak barrels, imparting very pleasant toasty, vanilla flavors. A little pricey at $40, but worth every penny!

Knowing that we’ll never be able to afford a ’73 Chateau Montelena, I wonder how this one compares?

2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay ($40)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

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