SUNDAY DECEMBER 17:
AU BON CLIMAT
Bon Climat was one of the "cool" and "gotta have"
brands back in the early 1980s. It was the work of a couple of
hippies named Jim Clendenen and Adam Tolmach.
They were the bad boys of that era and made some showy and different
Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs which were viewed as California wines which
were made with an idea of the wines from France's Burgundy
Tolmach departed in 1990, having launched his Ojai Vineyard brand of
Clendenen, a bit of a showman, still had his cellar crew in place at the
winery in Los Olivos. Jim Fryer Adelman was in the cellar and we
would tease him about the wines being seemingly better when Clendenen, who
bills himself as "The Mind Behind," was on the road and not
interfering with the work at the winery.
- The Chardonnays have been wines which share some characteristics with
their French cousins.
The grapes come from four vineyard sites in Santa Barbara. The wine
is typically whole-cluster pressed and then the juice is allowed to settle
before it goes into French oak for its fermentation.
The 2014 is less than 14% alcohol, by the way.
You'll find the wine to be dry...no funny business with leaving a bit of
residual sugar to make the wine have mass-market appeal. The oak is
present, but not overwhelming. There's a touch of a smoky, toasty
Au Bon Climat Chardonnays age handsomely, too. We've tasted nicely
aged bottles over the past couple of decades and these can be
magnificent. Of course, most people come into the shop, buy a bottle
or two and these are opened within 30 minutes to 48 hours.
Currently in stock: 2015 AU BON CLIMAT Santa
Barbara CHARDONNAY $18.99
Jim Clendenen, The Mind Behind.
2002 Sonoma Coast "Ritchie Vineyard" Sold Out a Long Time
- You might recognize the name "Aubert," as this fellow had been
associated for many years with the Peter Michael Winery. He was the
winemaker and has recently been hired as a consultant.
Hired by Helen Turley as assistant winemaker at Peter Michael, Mark Aubert
ran the show for a number of vintages. He's got his own label, as well
as consulting for several other producers (aside from Peter Michael, he
oversees the Colgin wine and the Sloan project).
Aubert is a fan of the Sonoma Coast area, having his own vineyard in the
Sebastopol-Forestville area. The first Aubert-labeled wine comes from
the Ritchie Vineyard, planted just east of Forestville. The wine,
though grown in a cool climate, is a bit shy in the acidity
department. Aubert says it was his first experience with this
vineyard. Future vintages will be crafted with a bit longer aging
potential in mind.
Franšois FrŔres and Tonnellerie Damy are the coopers for Aubert's
barrels. These, in our experience, tend to give a very sweet fragrance
to wines matured in that cooperage. Aubert used 60% new wood for his
2002 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay. Weekly lees-stirring, so you'll find
some toasty oak, vanillin and vanilla cream notes in this wine. Full
malolactic (this may have softened the wine too much, but it sure shows
The wine is big and powerful and it packs a wallop as the alcohol is a bit
elevated. Very limited, however. "Aubert" is French for "sold
out" with an alternate meaning: "You can't have any."
NEWS: Aubert has decided that its
precious wines are no longer suitable for sale in "fine wine"
emporiums such as ours. This, despite the fact that we did have their
first and second vintages.
The wines are now available ONLY to certain dining establishments.
We were initially disappointed by this development. We had a few
customers who had enjoyed the initial releases and were unable to supply
them with a new vintage.
A friend of ours sent along the Aubert release letter for their mailing list
customers who are "privileged" to buy the wine directly from the
source. We purchased a number of bottles and were pleased to be able
to share these with some friends when hosting a dinner event.
The wines, though, were simply not to our taste...Has Aubert changed the
"recipe" or have we "outgrown" the wine?
Well, that's certainly subject for debate, we suppose.
We found the wines to be big, showy and a bit "flat," having
plenty of ripe elements and big fruit and lots of toasty oak. One
dinner guest felt the wines were slightly sweet and they may have been
Anyway, au revoir Aubert!
I wonder if wineries, such as Aubert, realize that the
top, top estates in Europe, whom they seek to emulate, do not have the same
marketing policies. You won't find Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, for
example, selling its wine to private customers in France. The Domaine
de la Romanee-Conti does not solicit business via a web site, in hopes of
selling its wines directly to consumers, collectors or investors.
Angelo Gaja realizes that his wine belongs in a shop such as Weimax, where
it is held in high regard amongst other top wines from, not only Italy, but
around the world.
Telli and his wife Melissa are Team Betwixt and between the two of them,
they've got some pretty nice wines.
He's from Great Britain and the couple was living in New York. For
some reason, probably imbibing too many interesting wines, they decided to
pull up their stakes and head west.
Tim landed a retail job with our friend Richard Leland at Vintage Wine
& Spirits in Mill Valley. This further fueled the fire and not
long after coming to The Golden State did he embark on this little
He had cellar experience at AP Vin, August West and ROAR and somehow he
was not dissuaded from this Quixotic adventure.
And so now there's this rather new, fledgling brand called
Betwixt. We tasted Tim's wines and found a dynamite Pinot Noir from a
Santa Cruz Mountains site. And his Chardonnay also hails from the same
Tim prefers a rather "hands off" approach to his
winemaking. This is in an effort to showcase the vineyard characteristics
and the grape.
Betwixt Chardonnay is a sizeable production wine. That is, it's sizeable
if you consider 48 cases to be a big deal.
The wine spent just less than a year in French oak, one barrel being 2 years old
and the other being 3. Indigenous yeast fermentation and it was bottled
without fining or filtration. Don't be surprised if it develops a bit of
sediment with a year or two in the bottle.
Presently it embodies what we really like in a Santa Cruz Mountains
Chardonnay. The region tends to be a bit cooler than most vineyard areas
in other parts of California. Perhaps this is due to its proximity to the
ocean. But we're big fans of French white Burgundies and find so many
California Chardonnays to be merely recreational alcohol masquerading as
The Betwixt Chardonnay displays the toasty, leesy, smoky notes we like in many a
French wines, especially the ones with large price tags. There's some
stony, appley notes and maybe a streak of lemon. It's dry, of course (you
can't bottle a wine with a bit of sugar without filtering it or the yeast will
start fermenting in the bottle creating a hazy, gassy mess).
(If you've liked the Chardonnays of P&M Staiger or Walter Hansel, this might
be right up your alley.)
Currently in stock: 2014 BETWIXT Santa Cruz
Mountains Chardonnay $27.99
- CHALONE VINEYARD
- 2011 Estate
Sold Out Presently
- The history is long and varied, legend being that some Frenchman
found some quartz crystals on this property near the Pinnacles in Monterey County.
Taking these as a sign vines might thrive in this soil, it's said Burgundian varieties
such as Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were originally cultivated on this
site. The vineyard was in use shortly after Prohibition, owned by someone named
After years of remaining idle, Dick Graff (who died in 1997 in a plane
crash) revived the place and Chalone Vineyard was a benchmark producer of
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Blanc. In the
old days, water was trucked up to nourish the vines; there was no electricity and
the cellar was cooled with ice brought in from (somewhat nearby) Salinas! I
recall the first time I visited, they had no telephone service, though
electricity was one modern convenience.
I'm pretty sure they had indoor plumbing.
traditionally Burgundian-styled wines, barrel-fermented the whites.
The wines of the 1970s and 1980s were really showy and
The brand was riding high into the 1990s and they were affiliated with an
Edna Valley grape grower and made wine called "Edna Valley
Vineyard." It was originally styled along the lines of those
beautifully Burgundian Chalone wines.
Both companies grew...and Chalone was sold to a big drinks company.
Though they still make some nice wines under the Chalone label (these are
"Estate Bottled," not merely "Monterey County" wines),
the style of the wines is a bit less interesting than it was back in the
And today the Edna Valley Vineyard label is owned by Gallo!
Oh how things have changed.
The Chalone label used to be a guarantee of quality and its wines came from
a special terroir in the Gavilan Mountains. But the corporate raiders
immediately started using the brand name to put on industrial
After plundering the brand and its trustworthiness with consumers, Chalone
has once again been sold.
As of 2016 it's in the (hopefully more capable) hands of the Foley wine
group. This company has grown rapidly as Foley started his own winery
and has purchased many others.
Whether or note they restore Chalone to its former glory remains to be seen
(and tasted). But certainly they will have more respect for this
domaine than did the big drinks company.
The Dehlinger family prefers to remain low key and under-the-radar.
2015 Russian River Valley CHARDONNAY $41.99
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 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 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
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
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,
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
- FRANK FAMILY
- The Frank Family winery is modest-sized enterprise located at our old
friend, Hanns Kornell's "champagne cellar" on Larkmead Lane in
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
- 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
Currently in stock: 2015 FRANK FAMILY Napa CHARDONNAY Sale $31.99
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
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
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
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
- QUPE WINERY
2013 Santa Barbara Chardonnay Sold Out
2012 Reserve Sold Out
- Bob Lindquist and the Qupe "team" have what's probably our
best-selling wine in most recent vintages. The label depicts an art-deco rendition of a
poppy, the state flower of California. "Qupe" is a Chumash Indian word for
poppy, by the way.
- This is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay. The juice is
whole-cluster pressed and allowed to 'settle' before being racked into
barrels for its fermentation. This typically sees about 20% new Franšois Freres' barrels.
The 2013 offered the usual nice oak and butter character. After fermentation, the wine spends about 9 months on
the spent yeast. It is mildly
oaky and fairly buttery. Most reasonably priced, too!
We tasted the 2014 at a couple of stages and the wine just did not seem like
previous Qupe Chardonnays.
We asked Bob why they changed the recipe.
"Oh man," he said. "You guys are sharp tasters.
We reduced the use of new oak from 25% down to 20%. I'm impressed that
you could taste the difference."
Well, we noticed and skipped the 2014.
We recently had a taste of the 2015 and it was more to our taste.
Stay tuned for that.
Bob's "reserve" Chardonnay from the 2012 vintage is a huge
wine. The juice is handled in relatively the same fashion as their
'regular' bottling, except they use a higher percentage of new
barrels. The wine is matured longer on the spent yeast in oak.
It is bottled without having been filtered. Deeply toasty, moderately smoky and quite
buttery...don't miss it.