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MORE CHARDONNAYS

Impressive Chardonnays


The Dehlinger family prefers to remain low key and under-the-radar.



DEHLINGER WINERY
2015 Russian River Valley CHARDONNAY  $41.99
Tom Dehlinger is now in his fifth decade of production.   We knew him when he was a young feller...today he's a gray beard and his daughters are now working in the business!

The Dehlinger family has about 50 acres of vineyards in Sebastopol and make some exceptional wines.   Now much sought-after, we're happy to say we discovered Tom back in the mid-1970s when he first started.  Back then Tom grew but a small portion of the fruit for his wines.   

Today all the wine is estate grown.  Dehlinger's vineyards were planted between 1975 and 1988.  Wente clone.  This produces rather small clusters, but big flavors.

Chardonnays are fermented in oak and undergo full malolactic.  Unfiltered, too.  
 
They are beautiful wines. 

The 2015 is a really marvelous example of California Chardonnay in general and "Dehlinger Chardonnay" in particular.  It's the sort of wine which is a "winemaker's wine," not something concocted for the marketing department.  This has nice appley fruit and a bit of toasty oak, but it's not a blob of caramel...there's nice acidity to this and it's dry.  

Though he's a "star" winemaker, Tom Dehlinger is a bit of a hermit and homebody.  The wines remain fairly priced.  And hard to find.

A couple of his daughters are interested in the wine business.  Carmen & Eva, the former taking care of sales, the latter working in the wine cellar.


Carmen Dehlinger


Carmen and her Pop, Tom Dehlinger

 

 

 

ERIC KENT
Kent Humphrey and his wife Colleen are the dynamic duo behind this new enterprise, a brand worthy of the "rising star" designation, in our view.

Kent's middle name is Eric, hence the E-K branding for the wines.  
 
Eric was in some phase of the advertising business and when his firm was swallowed up by a larger fish, he grew weary of the politics of a more 'corporate' environment.

He signed up for grunt work at one winemaking facility, embarking on his wine-production education.  After a second gig as a cellar rat, he came upon the opportunity to buy some grapes and try his hand at making wine under his own banner.  The grape market was in a down phase (vintners and many marketing people have short memories and have forgotten things were a struggle in 2002 and 2003!) and Kent struck up a wonderful relationship with a grower or two.

We tasted the range of wines from this gentleman and were mighty impressed!

He's got a good, artisan mentality about making wine, preferring to showcase the grape rather than put his thumbprint squarely and firmly on the wine.  

Kent's stated philosophy is:  
"Every vintage we prefer to follow the grapes' lead and offer gentle care as the wine emerges from the juice.  If a wine asks for help, we provide it.  If a wine is happy on its own, we simply let it be and celebrate its unique evolution."

We especially liked Kent's Russian River Valley-designated Chardonnay.  The juice is settled for a day and then racked into French oak for its fermentation.  Ambient yeasts are used and the wine undergoes some measure of a malolactic fermentation.  The idea is to retain an edge of acidity, so if he has to stop the malolactic to achieve the crispness, Kent will do so.  

 
The 2009 Sangiacomo Vineyard bottling is in the shop.  We like the ripe pear fruit of this wine and there's a touch of toasty oak here, as well.  The production of this amounts to about 150 cases, so it's not a wine you'll find all over town.
We had discovered a "lost" box of this wine in the stockroom and opened a bottle...
It's showing handsomely in March of 2019 at nearly ten years of age!
The pear notes are still showing well and the wood has become creamier...


We should also mention the perpetual "art show" provided by Kent and Colleen (she's an artist, by the way).  Their bottles have a normal wine label, but they also have really interesting art adorning the bottles.  Each vintage each wine will have a different bit of art on 'display.'  While we appreciate this and have an eye for art, it's the liquid artistry that really captivates our interest.

His sister Renee handles sales for this little enterprise...
 
Currently in stock: 
2009 ERIC KENT Sangiacomo Vineyard CHARDONNAY $41.99


 

 

 

FORMAN

Ric Forman was once one of the young Turks in Napa Valley winemaking, a bit of a pioneer, having been the winemaker at a new start-up called Sterling Vineyards.  

Sterling was a lovely cellar atop a hill in Calistoga and customers would have to take a Disneyland-styled tram ride from the parking lot up to the winery.

At Sterling Ric made some stellar wines and many were lavishly-oaked.  Some years into the venture, the owners sold the place to a soft drink company and Forman left, hooking up with the his old pal Peter Newton to start what was supposed to be the Forman winery.

I recall visiting this lovely cellar near Spring Mountain and they'd decided they admired the wines of the Domaine des Comtes Lafon.  They'd tried to replicate the very cold cellar at Lafon's Meursault estate by having a "cold room" for the Chardonnay wines to slowly mature.  

As the first wines were going to be bottled, Newton's wife, a self-proclaimed expert in wine marketing, pushed to change the name of the brand from Forman to something more flashy, like, you know, Newton!  

Ric got the message and left, doing some consulting work before finally starting his own winery (with help from a guy who was making Gamay wines in the style of Beaujolais, a feller named Charles Shaw).

I think Ric's first wines under his own label were made in 1983. 

Chardonnay has really evolved and today's wine is not going to be one which appeals to those who find Rombauer's or Z-D's to be the height of sophistication.  From a mildly wooded style a couple of decades ago, today's Forman Chardonnay is the sort of wine which might make a vintner in France's Chablis region raise an eyebrow.  

The 2010 vintage is currently in stock.  It's a really young, tight wine having had no malolactic fermentation so its acidity is zesty and gives the wine a taut quality.  We find some stony, minerally notes and the wine is light and stone, bone dry.  It pairs well with mild seafood at this stage and if you cellar this for five year, or so, you'll find it unfolds into a wine of satisfying complexity.  

Currently in stock:  2010 FORMAN Napa Valley CHARDONNAY  Sold Out

 

 

 

FRANK FAMILY
The Frank Family winery is modest-sized enterprise located at our old friend, Hanns Kornell's "champagne cellar" on Larkmead Lane in Calistoga.

Hanns was a dear old fellow and made good sparkling wines for many years, but he was using Riesling or Sylvaner as the base wine and the world was more interested in the more classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-based bubblies.  
The Frank Family story is of a Disney executive, Richard Frank, who took a liking to Napa in the late 1980s and in 1990 he and Mrs. Frank bought a little "weekend getaway" residence.  A couple of years later, a friend of theirs who owns Rombauer winery called to say the old Kornell place was for sale and Mr. Rombaby suggested Frank pony up a few bucks and buy the place.  They actually partnered and bought the property...Rombauer was bought out some years ago, though.

The brand is surprisingly well-known to our customers as a source of good Cabernet and Chardonnay...at least, I'm surprised so many people recognize the Frank Family name and the wine sells better than I would expect.

Their Chardonnays are routinely fairly big, robust white wines.  They employ about one-third brand new oak barrels and the rest is once and twice-used cooperage.  If you're looking for a wine of finesse and elegance, I can't say this is your wine.  But if you want a woodsy Chardonnay with notes of ripe pear and baked apple, this is for you.

The winery offers some tasting notes on its Chardonnay...see if any of these sound like what you're looking for in characteristics or qualities of a Chardonnay:  Key Lime zest,  Anjou pear, white Nectarine and ripe pineapple...toasted marshmallow, candied pecans and jasmine...citrus, tropical fruit, lemon grass...cashew butter, cinnamon bread pudding and caramel sauce...

Currently in stock: 2016 FRANK FAMILY Napa CHARDONNAY  Sale $32.99

 

 

 



FROG'S LEAP WINERY

Frog's Leap has been around since the early 1980s and it was started as a bit of a joke between John & Julie Williams and their pal, Dr. Larry Turley.

John was a winemaker, having come to California from New York's Finger Lakes to make wine at Mike Robbins' famous Spring Mountain Winery.  He was friendly with a local emergency room doctor, Larry Turley, and they decided to start a goofy label, poking fun at the "Stag's Leap" wineries, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Stags Leap Winery.  

This stemmed from their purchase of an old site which had been once used to raise frog's for gastronomic purposes.

Larry wanted to make big, humunguous red wines and ended up being bought out and so he now runs the Turley winery...

John Williams is a big proponent of organic farming practices and he's been employing this regimen for decades, long before "organic" and "sustainable farming" became buzzwords and sales tools.  

Another facet of Frog's Leap wines is that John believes in sensible farming in order to be able to produce good quality, drinkable wines.  This sounds like it ought to be every winemaker's philosophy, but John doesn't over-crop his vines, then pick at insanely high levels of sugar.  Many, these days, over-crop and then think they can compensate for their greed by picking later.  And many of these folks also, then, add water to the juice to be able to ferment the wine to dryness and then they jimmy-jack the wine with technologies such as the spinning cone or reverse osmosis filtration...

Frog's Leap, then, is a bit old-fashioned.  They pick good grapes are modest levels of sugar and ferment the wines to dryness, typically making wines around 13.5% alcohol, sometimes less.  The 2015 is 13.1% alcohol, quite modest by California standards.

The 2015 Frog's Leap Chardonnay is a delight on several counts.  
The wine comes from Carneros area vineyards and there are several "components" to this wine. The recipe has changed over the years...it used to feature a percentage of wine vinified solely in stainless steel...now virtually all the juice is fermented in oak!  
However, once the fermentation was completed, 100% (according to John) was then put into concrete tanks...a neutral environment.

We like the fresh, green apple sort of aromatics and flavors and there's a light touch of wood whispering in the background.  The wine is medium-bodied and one we like to described as being "made for adults."  That means it's not sweet and not candy-like. 
It's a terrific wine with seafood, but can work nicely with white meat dishes, too.

Currently in stock:  2015 FROG'S LEAP Carneros CHARDONNAY $29.99

 

 

MAYACAMAS VINEYARDS

The Mayacamas winery is famous for its Cabernets and their Chardonnay is a bit under the radar.

The grapes come from relatively high elevation sites on Mount Veeder, the vineyard parcels ranging from 1800 to 2000 feet above sea level.  Being dry-farmed, the vines don't produce a bountiful crop and this is one of the "secrets" of this wine.  They try to pick based on acidity rather than simply by sugar levels in the grapes.

Whole clusters of grapes go into the press and the juice is then fermented in small oak, large wood and stainless steel...a happy mix of batches.  They do not encourage a malolactic fermentation, preferring to keep the wine with a crisp edge to it.

The 2016 is stellar.  It might be the best Mayacamas Chardonnay in more than a decade.

There's a stony, lemony quality to this wine...quite dry and snappy.

There's a whiff of wood, but it's well in the background on the nose and palate.


Currently in stock:  2016 MAYACAMAS "Mount Veeder-Napa Valley" CHARDONNAY  $52.99

 

 

PAUL LATO WINES

Pawel Lato was born in Poland and dreamed of living in America.  When he was in college, he had an excursion to Spain and he ended up staying there for about a year before moving to Canada.

He took a job in a wine-centric dining establishment in Toronto and learned quite a bit about wines from around the world.  He viewed Robert Mondavi as an iconic vintner and eventually he came west to California to seek his fortune.

Paul worked a harvest at the Au Bon Climat cellar in Los Olivos before returning to Canada.  Winemaker Jim Clendenen had invited Lato to come and see how wine is made, as he'd learn a lot.  Lato did and returned later and launched his own brand at a custom crush facility in Santa Maria.  

He had been working in that "incubator" cellar and was able to see how various winemakers produced their wines.  This gave him a good idea of what to do and what not to do.

From there his own label began to find a measure of success.  The noted wine critic, Robert Parker, had tasted Lato's wine and wanted to be the first to heap accolades on this discovery.

Gary Burk, whose family owned Gold Coast vineyards, had launched his own winery called Costa de Oro and he told us several times about Paul Lato's wines and introduced us to Mr. Lato. 


The wines these days, with nearly two decades of vintages under his belt, are really expressive and stylish.

Paul gets grapes from a number of famous vineyards in the Central Coast and he pays the growers "by the acre," rather than "by the ton."  This allows him to implement stricter growing protocols and means the yields in the vineyards are reduced in order to maximize quality.

We have a Chardonnay he called "Matinee."  This sees a bit less oak than his fancier, more costly Chardonnays yet it still has a nice presence of wood.  There's a toasty element to the wine which tips its cap to French white Burgundies, but retains its Santa Barbara fruit.  We find some pear-like fruit and maybe a touch of melon.  
Ellen thought it may have a touch of sweetness, but we did not sense residual sugar in this wine.  The 2015 is in stock presently.

Current in stock: PAUL LATO 2015 Santa Barbara CHARDONNAY "Matinee"  $41.99

 

 

 

 

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