Food & Drink

Must-Try Chardonnay And Pinot Noir From Three Artisan California Wineries

There are hundreds of wine producers in California that excel at producing wines with an artisan approach. Crafting small lots of wines such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two Burgundian varietals that at their best are made to display not only ideal balance and true character that represent their particular varietal, but also offer a sense of place, wines that reveal the identity of where the grapes are grown.

In this article, I will focus on three producers in northern California that brilliantly capture their specific area’s character and personality regarding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Donum Estate, Carneros Sonoma – The Donum estate, located in the Carneros area at the southern reaches of Sonoma County (part of Carneros is also situated in Napa Valley), is know both for its wines as well as its artwork, as 40 large-scale, open air sculptures dot its landscape.

The estate is divided into five separate plantings, with the Donum plot being the most important. While Chardonnay makes up nine acres of this land, Pinot Noir is by far the dominant varietal, with 82 planted acres. There are several examples of Pinot Noir from here, some of them single-vineyard bottlings. The Pinot Noirs produced by the Donum winery, which includes offerings from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County and Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, are muscular examples of this varietal, very concentrated and quite rich, wines that need several years to round out and display their best qualities.

My notes on current releases from Donum Estate:

Donum Estate Pinot Noir “Single Vineyard” 2018 (Carneros) – Bright young garnet; rich aromas of black cherry, black raspberry and hints of bitter chocolate. Medium-full, this is quite ripe and extracted with ample wood notes; ripe, balanced tannins, good acidity and excellent length in the finish. This grabs your attention right from its first aromatic features until the wine finishes on the palate. Enjoy now with veal dishes or duck breast. Peak in 5-6 years. (92)

Donum Estate Pinot Noir “Single Vineyard – Three Hills” 2018 (Carneros) -Deep young garnet; expressive aromas of bing and maraschino cherry, red plum and carnation. Medium-full with excellent concentration; rich but well integrated wood notes, very god acidity and medium-full tannins. This is a rich, beautifully structured Pinot Noir that is very appealing now, but will offer greater complexities over the next several years, with peak in 8-12 years. (95)

Donum Estate Pinot Noir “Single Vineyard” 2018 (Russian River Valley) – Deep young garnet; aromas of black cherry, plum preserves and purple iris. Medium-full with impressive concentration, rich tannins, well-integrated wood notes, good acidity and very good persistence. This is a robust Pinot Noir with impressive complexity that needs a few years to round out, as it is structured for peak in 8-10 years. (92)

Gary Farrell Winery, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County – Gary Farrell started producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from several of Russian River Valley’s finest vineyards in 1982, and over the next several years, he became a living legend and a bit of a hero to lovers of these wines throughout the state. His wines were deeply concentrated and structured to age beautifully for anywhere up to a dozen years, even longer with a few examples of Pinot Noir.

Farrell sold the winery several years ago, but his legacy continues through the winemaking of Theresa Heredia, who is able to source fruit from some of these same sites, as well as others in Russian River Valley, the nearby Sonoma Coast and a few other districts in California. Both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Farrell, as crafted by Heredia, offer textbook Russian River character, and always have a backbone of lively acidity, and perhaps most importantly, display terrific overall harmony.

Gary Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane Vineyard 2018 (Russian River Valley) – Bright yellow; aromas of lemon oil, dried peach and hints of honey and butter. Medium-full with ripe, slightly lush fruit, good acidity, ample wood notes and a complex finish with good length. This is a bit of an old-fashioned Chardonnay with a ripe and lush feel. Enjoy with very rich seafood over the next 2-4 years. (90)

Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard 2017 (Russian River Valley) – Rich young garnet; textbook aromas of bing cherry, wild strawberry and turmeric, with a hint of black tea. Medium-full with very good depth of fruit, well-integrated wood notes, medium-weight tannins, good acidity, and notes of black cherry and nutmeg in the finish. Impressive length and complexity; this would be ideal paired with duck breast, game birds or roast chicken. Enjoy over the next 3-6 years.  (92)

Macrostie Vineyard and Winery, Sonoma County – Founded by Steve MacRostie in 1987, this has been one of the shining stars in the Carneros Sonoma area, especially with Chardonnay. Pinot Noir, with much of the fruit sourced from Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, has become equally important for the winery, which recently moved its location from Carneros to a state-of-the-art facility on Westside Road in Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley. While Steve Macrostie was the original winemaker, he turned these duties over to the effervescent Heidi Bridenhagen in 2013; she had served as assistant winemaker there since 2011. Her style is one that showcases bright varietal fruit with a notable sense of origin; the wines always display very good acidity and are elegantly styled.

Note that all of the Macrostie Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs (as well as all of their other wines) are bottled with screw caps, which the proprietors believe preserve the wines’ freshness and purity.

MacRostie Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard 2019 (Green Valley of Russian River Valley) – Brilliant light yellow; aromas of golden apple, spiced pear and goldenrod. Medium-full, this has excellent ripeness, very good acidity, and a delicate creamy, lush feel, all the while coming across as very delicate on the palate. This has beautiful finesse along with exquisite balance, and will be especially appealing to Chardonnay lovers who tire of excessive wood notes in their wines. A marvelous success that can be enjoyed tonight with lemon sole or halibut, or put away for three to five years. (95)

MacRostie Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2019 (Russian River Valley) – Light yellow; aromas of guava, melon and saffron. Medium-full, this is quite rich on the palate and displays more intense wood notes and power than the Heintz Chardonnay. This is more in the style of many California Chardonnays from the 1980s and 1990s and needs to be paired with very rich seafood (lobster, swordfish) or meats such as roast veal. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. (91)

MacRostie Pinot Noir Thale’s Vineyard 2018 (Russian River Valley) – An estate vineyard of MacRostie since 2013, this site was named for Steve’s wife Thale. Beautiful delicate garnet; aromas of bing cherry, pink roses and carnations, this is a delicious Pinot Noir with very good acidity, impressive varietal purity, medium-bodied tannins, nicely integrated notes and a lengthy, supple finish with delicate notes of black spice. Pair this with roast chicken tonight or lay away for another five to seven years. (92)

MacRostie Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard 2018 (Sonoma Coast) – Beautiful delicate garnet (almost pink); aromas of bing and black cherry, pomegranate and chrysanthemum. Medium-full, this has ripe fruit character, very good acidity, earthy notes in the finish and rich tannins. Give this a few years to settle down, as it will improve for another five to seven years. If you want to pair this with food tonight, serve it with cornish hen. (91)


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