Uncorked Ventures Blog
Every so often we find a winery and think, if we could make wine, we’d want it to be like this.
Chronicle Wines is one of those wineries.
We had previously featured their Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir in our Special Selections Wine Club and the reaction to it was superb. I think we’ve received more positive comments about this wine than we have any other Pinot Noir that we’ve shipped in 3+ years. Matt and I enjoyed the wine enough to have a bit of a “discussion” about where our last bottle should go. To a paying customer? To me? To him? To be enjoyed the two of us? To be enjoyed with our wives?
In any case, I wish we could make the case that we found Chronicle through some great exploration, but 94 point scores don’t grow on trees, even when you’re considering one of the most famous Anderson Valley vineyards in existence, so there’s that. Plus, one of our favorite questions to ask winemaker and winery staff that we meet is quite simple: What are you drinking? After we heard Chronicle come out the mouth of the 5th person in Sonoma, we thought that it might be a good time to find a way to get some of the wine for our customers.
We were incredibly happy to have been selected to offer their Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir to our wine club customers this month. We said it in our newsletter and we’ll say it again in this space, but Chronicle did a better job explaining the Cerise Vineyard than we ever could, so we’ll share their work here:
Cerise Vineyard is located between 800 and 1200 feet above the floor of Anderson Valley looking down on the little town of Boonville. The vines are planted on a series of steep slopes facing south, and all farmed organically. There are 40 acres total, scattered on a series of small, clonal blocks, generally each no larger than a few acres. They are quite exposed to both fog and cooling breezes from the ocean. The soils here are thin, hard and quite marginal, a blend of sandstones and fractured shale. The property is full of sunken boulders and bedrock that fractures only under great stress. If the old adage that great wines come from poor soils is true, then this site is the real deal. The vines struggle to produce two tons per acre in the very best years.
In many ways what we have here (and what you hopefully have in your glass) is in many ways the quintessential Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. If you consider this part of Sonoma to be one of the predominant Pinot production regions in the world, this is why. The Pinot produced by excellent Anderson Valley vineyards aren’t the lighter versions valued by other regions around the world, but in many they are darker and more brooding than you can find elsewhere. Chronicle describes their Pinot’s as having dark fruit flavors, which even the mention of in Burgundy might be heresy.
The reasons for that darkness are certainly sketched out above, but vines forced to struggle as much as these tend to produce both smaller yields and also smaller fruit. Smaller fruit is a key consideration here and I think isn’t given enough attention for how flavors are imparted to wine. If you think about the amount of grape skins available to impart flavors into wine, there are more skins in a ton of these grapes than there are on from other vineyard sites in the Anderson Valley, or really anywhere else in the world. More skins produce more flavor and more skins also produce darker wine. After all, red wine isn’t really red until it spends some time in contact with the grape skins. Additionally, the Anderson Valley has darker versions of Pinot because of the fog and cold that happens on the Sonoma coast, but all of that struggle is accented by the vineyard itself here.
Going forward, we’re excited to see what happens at Chronicle. They have released an Anderson Valley Pinot blend, which we think is going to end up a nice addition for their lineup, especially at a more wallet friendly price of $44. That’s a significant discount from their single vineyard offerings and places them $11 short of what we see the average Pinot marked as Anderson Valley from other well known and respected producers.
There is also a Chardonnay this year for the first time ($35) which I will admit, to not having had the chance to taste myself as of yet. We’ve certainly moved out of the day of Chardonnay in California, but again it’s nice to have a white wine offering and frankly, the story will bring in plenty of customers by itself:
This marks my inaugural Chardonnay release under Chronicle. My Dad Jim first planted our home vineyard in 1982, on a 14-acre plateau nestled into the mountain in the cool southwest portion of Sonoma Valley. The vineyard thrived for twenty years under his guidance, until his passing in 2002.
"I've long wanted to produce a wine from that fruit, given the deep connection I have to that site and to my Dad."
Given that one of the reasons Matt and I wanted to get into the wine business was to create a business of value that we could eventually pass on to our children, I feel a certain attachment to the story of Chronicle’s Chardonnay.
So I hope I’ve done a good job extolling the virtues of Chronicle. At it’s core, this is pretty simple. This is exactly the type of small production winery that we’re all clamoring for.
We recently featured Dragonette Cellars again in our Special Selections Wine Club. With a tasting room in Los Olivos, we originally found Dragonette at Family Winemakers in San Diego and initially knew of them as a Pinot house. As we've found over time, their location in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley affords them access to some interesting Syrah as well and this is an interesting blend, largely Syrah that shows off their ability to craft denser and deeper wines.
About Dragonette: We’ve previously shipped a Dragonette Pinot Noir, which we continue to be impressed with, but any time a winery is willing to name a wine after their three significant others, we’re interested. The MJM represent the three first initials of their wives/girlfriend. This wine is considered their proprietory red wine blend, but in essence it’s Syrah for this vintage. Given their location in Santa Ynez Valley, that makes sense, especially with many of the grapes for this wine coming from Ballard Canyon, California’s most recently created AVA-and one of the few largely specializing in Syrah. More than anything else, though the critics LOVE Dragonette-so we wanted to share another of their wines. From the Wine Advocate itself to the California tasting panel at Wine Spectator, scores have been consistently coming in at 90 points and above for Dragonette-meaning these wines are becoming quickly in short supply.
Tasting Notes: 93pts Stehpen Tanzer
Opaque ruby. Black and blue fruits, incense and a touch of candied plum on the highly perfumed nose. Lush and powerful, offering sweet blackberry and boysenberry flavors and suave floral pastille andspicecake nuances. Bright acidity gives this fleshy wine lift, spine and focus. Closes with substantial but harmonious tannins and a jolt of exotic candied violet.
Stone the Crows 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Three Twins Vineyard Napa Valley
About Stone the Crows: This is the first time that we’ve chosen to include a single bottle of wine for our Special Selection Club members. Simply put, we couldn’t bypass this wine and think our customers will appreciate finding an up and coming star in the world of high end, Napa Valley Cabernet. Stone the Crows is based east of Napa’s Silverado Trail in some of the warmer environs in the area. For that reason, combined with the fact that the Three Twins Vineyard was planted just in 2005 (grape vines generally don’t produce world class fruit and vines aged less than 10 years are generally very young vines) Proprietor Rich Talmadge needed to find a winemaker who could handle his fruit and produce a palate pleasing wine. Luckily he was able to convince Thomas Rivers Brown, perhaps the best known winemaker in the world currently to take on his project. Brown if you aren’t familiar is the youngest winemaker to craft a 100 point wine according to either Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate and has a handful of such wines to his name. Additionally, he was the 2010 winemaker of the year according to Food & Wine magazine. He is responsible for winemaking at venerable names such as Schrader, Maybach, Black Sears and Outpost. Known for round tannins, we’ve heard that among the superstar winemaker crowd his style is forced upon wines less than his competitors. Personally speaking, if I had to choose a single winemaker to produce a Napa Valley Cabernet for me, Brown would be at the top of my list. The question as you’ve already guessed is how Talmadge was able to convince Brown to take a small Cabernet project when he’s already so busy. As it turns out, relationships in Napa Valley are everything when only about 500 people are responsible for winemaking in the area. Mike Smith is the assistant winemaker on a couple of Brown’s projects (Maybach is the best known of them) and happens to be close personal friends with Talmadge. Incidentally, that is also how we became the only retailer to be offered this wine, we’ve previously featured a wine from Mike Smith (Quivet Cellars) and have kept in touch over the past few months, leading to the introduction to Talmadge and the ability to feature these wines. We’re extremely proud to be the first retail partner working with Stone the Crows and we hope over the coming years that they continue allowing us to feature their wines, which are already being sold exclusively to their own internal mailing list.
Coming in this month's Special Selections shipment is the 2009 Chronicle Pinot Noir from the famed Savoy Vineyard. We thought our wine club customers might enjoy learning about what made us select this wine while also hearing a bit about the vineyard, winemaker and owner which wouldn't fit in our regular monthly newsletter.
Chronicle Wines has a relatively simple premise, show off the outstanding vineyards and terrior of the North Coast of California. Many of these famed vnieyards are both sustainably and organically farmed.
Chronicle is owned by Mike Hengehold, himself a veteran of the wine industry both through birth (his dad owned a vineyard and he grew up in wine country) as well as pedigree, having run Luna Vineyards for close to a decade. We've found that having supportive ownerhsip is incredibly important, but having a supportive owner who understands the wine industry creates an incredible environment.
The winemaker at Chronicle is James McPhail who is also a California native and boasts family ties in Marin County to before the turn of last century. James has made a name for himself at previous wine stops including Sequana Vineyards which has produced a solid run of 90+ point Pinot Noir's many of which priced under $40. What interested us about James wasn't as much as his pedigree in winemaking, but instead his varied set of life experiences. Not to be too corny, but Pinot Noir moreso than any other varietal gives me a sense of place. Having a winemaker who grew up in Sonoma County and who appreciates that sense of place based on years of travel, was an interesting combination. Of course, the long history of producing great Pinot was pretty interesting as well.
Lastly, the most important part of the wine: The Savoy Vineyard. Originally planted in 1991, clone densities have needless to say changed some over the years, but there is about 30 acres of Pinot Noir currently planted. Located in Anderson Valley, the vineyard is slightly warmer than its neighbors because it is protected on two sides, one by a mountain and the other by a small naturally occuring rise. Littorai has made a name for itself as a wine label almost exclusively from this vineyard site, which many winemakers during our conversations count among the ten most important in California for Pinot Noir.
Overall, we simply thought that the 2009 Chronicle Pinot Noir Saovy Vineyard was an excellent, excellent wine. It is heavier on darker fruit than many other Pinot Noir's you'll find in California, but keeps a sense of elegance and grace at the same time.
Why try and explain our tasting notes, when we can let the professionals at Wine Enthusiast do it instead:
"The grapes obviously were well grown, as this wine shows a particular intensity of red cherry fruit, as well as minerality. The acidity is just about perfect, the tannins brisk and fine. Yet it’s too young to offer full enjoyment. Cellar this polished Pinot Noir for 4–6 years to let it change in interesting ways." Cellar Selection
As a vintage, 2009 was an unqualified success. It was a year where we achieved physiological ripeness in Anderson Valley at lower brix and lower potential alcohols. This was the result of a moderate spring and summer, punctuated by a few stretches near harvest when temperatures hovered in the 90's.
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