x
  • Country ranking ?

    254
  • Producer ranking ?

    4
  • Decanting time

    -
  • When to drink

    2020-2035

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The Story

All of our ten vineyard designate Chardonnays are marked first and foremost by regional characteristics. Beyond that lies the personality of each of the vineyards from which they hail. All of the sites are planted to the same clone, a California heritage selection that we have been using for close to thirty years. Each wine is produced in the same fashion, with the focus being on the traditional techniques that elicit the earth driven, complex noble sulfides and resulting minerality inherent in the fruit from each site.

Each of our Chardonnay vineyards exhibits characters unique to the site, and hence unique to the wines bottled as vineyard designates. The bottling of wines of site is not a process we take lightly, as it is the main focus of our efforts.  We often take years to assess the quality and individual personality of a site prior to deciding to bottle it on its own. We have been working with many of these sites for well over twenty five years.

Produced solely from one specific block at the Kistler Vineyard, the only section of the vineyard that has a broken shale interwoven with the red volcanic ash. Since its planting in 1989, the block stood out in our minds, and clearly called for a separate bottling. Produces one of our most complete and complex chardonnays, and nears perfection on an annual basis.

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Vintage 2017

Excellent quality for California’s 2017 wines

 California’s 2017 wine harvest wrapped up early this fall following summer heat spurts and a growing season that saw significant rain throughout the state ending a five-year drought. While October wildfires in North Coast wine communities made international headlines, the state’s vineyards and wineries were not significantly affected. Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, the regions most impacted, grow 12 percent of California’s winegrapes, and 90% percent of the harvest in Napa and Sonoma and 85% in Mendocino were already picked and in production at wineries before the fires.

“The vast majority of California’s 2017 winegrape harvest was unaffected by the wildfires and the vintage promises to be of excellent quality,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, president and CEO of Wine Institute. “The outpouring of support locally and from around the world for people in the impacted communities has been phenomenal. We are saddened by the loss of lives and homes and this will truly be remembered as a harvest of the heart. Wineries are at work making their 2017 wines and welcoming visitors dur-ing this beautiful late fall/early winter season.”

 

The Growing Season 

With all but late harvest grapes in, vintners are looking back at the 2017 growing season throughout the state. The drought is over with the season beginning with rainfall that refilled reservoirs and replenished soils. Harvest began early at a normal pace in many regions, and then progressed rapidly during a heat wave in late August and early September. Temperatures cooled mid-September, slowing the harvest pace and allowing red grapes to ripen gradually. Many regions are reporting reduced yields due to the heat spell, but vintners are reporting strong quality for the 2017 vintage. 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture estimated in early August that the state’s overall crop size would reach 4 million tons, down slightly from 4.03 million in 2016 and above the historical average of 3.9 million tons. The heat wave will likely lower this prediction. 

“We had above average rainfall this winter on the Central Coast, but not as much as areas that saw flooding,” said Steve Lohr, CEO, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines. “It was wonderful because it helped fill up the reservoirs and bring new life to cover crops that had been parched after several years of drought. It has been a good year for us, all in all, on the Central Coast,” Lohr said. “From the 30,000-foot perspective, I would say that these wines are going to show particularly nicely in their youth but will have the capacity to age.” 

 

According to Neil Bernardi, vice president of winemaking at Duckhorn Wine Co., the increased rainfall also brought vine-vigor challenges. “It required special focus on cover crops and tillage and closely managing canopies. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Napa Valley and Alexander Valley look especially healthy,” he said. “Our Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Merlot have excellent color, extraction and flavor, and Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are showing excellent aromatics and great acidity.” 

The rainfall helped vines in the Santa Cruz Mountains rebound from the drought, but also caused some problems during flowering. “Zinfandel got caught by spring rain during bloom and most of our Zinfandel sites are down in tonnage anywhere from 15% to 40%,” said Eric Baugher, chief operating officer and winemaker, Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Winery. “It does appear that the Zinfandel vintage will be an extraordinary one, similar to 1999. I expect similar excellent quality out of Chardonnay since the fruit had such great intensity of flavor from the petite-size clusters and berries.” 

A heat spell impacted many California regions in late summer, speeding up harvest schedules and requiring extra vigilance. “Some vineyards that had exposed fruit showed desiccation,” said David Hayman, vice president of winegrowing for Delicato Family Vineyards, which farms grapes across the state. “Ripeness was accelerated and a lot of fruit became ready all at once. Flavors across the board look good.”

 

NAPA VALLEY 

Abundant winter rains thrilled vintners and helped recharge reservoirs and groundwater. Spring weather was cool to mild, with increased vine vigor and extended flowering in some areas, but few reports of shatter. A freak June hail storm caused isolated damage, but left the crop mostly unscathed. Initially, harvest seemed like it would proceed at a leisurely rate, but that changed with the Labor Day weekend heat wave. High temperatures kicked harvest into high gear until mid-September, when cooler weather arrived to give red Bordeaux varieties some extra hang time. Vintners are optimistic about quality. Reduced yields are expected for some varieties due to discarding fruit damaged by heat and the wildfires. The whites have bright, fresh flavors and the reds are intense and rich. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are showing especially good quality.

 

SONOMA COUNTY

Record-breaking winter rainfall kicked off the season, filling the water table to capacity and replenishing soils. A mild spring brought bud break at the normal time, and vintners reported small berries with excellent color. A hot summer culminated in a Labor Day weekend heat wave that caused some vintners to move up their harvest dates by a week or so. The grapes endured the heat and once cooler weather arrived, fruit was able to mature at a gradual pace. Mid-September rain forced growers open up canopies, and in some instances, use blowers to dry out certain varieties prior to harvesting. Early estimates predicted an average yield, but some vintners reported weight loss in the grapes after the heat wave. Because most of the fruit was picked prior to the October fires, vintners have a positive outlook on the 2017 wines, comparing the vintage to 2003, 2013 and 2014. The fruit has excellent color, pronounced flavors and high quality across varieties.

 

SANTA BARBARA 

The growing season got off to a good start, with generous winter rainfall and warm spring temperatures that prevented spring frost issues. The winter rains contributed to strong canopy growth and reduced the need for irrigation. High temperatures and humidity in late August and early September contributed to increased fungal pressure, but vintners reported no significant fruit damage. Harvest began in the third week of August. Fruit quality was above average, characterized by small berries with good color and concentration in the reds. Clusters were also smaller than normal, resulting in yield reductions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Yields were average to nearly 50% of normal.

 

SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS 

The region experienced a remarkably wet winter with as much as 100 inches or more of rainfall on the ocean side. This brought healthy vigor to the vines, along with the need for additional canopy management, floor management and weed control. Bud break began in early to mid-March and bloom followed in late May to early June. Harvest came at the end of August, spurred by a heat wave that sent temperatures into triple digits for several days and quickly spurred harvest into overdrive. Some vineyards were affected more than others, depending on microclimates and farming practices. Crop loads were very good and quality looks fantastic for the varieties that were able to ride through the heat spell—especially Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Latest Pro-tasting notes

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Written Notes

Winemaker Jason Kesner points out that this is not a barrel selection but a separate block in the vineyard with unique soils of broken shale and red volcanic ash. The 2017 Chardonnay Cuvée Cathleen is youthfully shy on the nose, opening very slowly to notes of dried apple, potpourri, hints of key lime pie and sliced apricot with accents of spring honey, toast and wet stone. Medium-bodied, the aromas bely the palate—it explodes with multilayered flavors ranging from tangy citrus to honeycomb and earthy notions of dried leaves, seamlessly framed by juicy acidity and silkily textured, finishing very long and packed with flavor. "To me, this has several distinct parts of its personality, like gears with teeth," says Kesner. "This hits on all the classic points you look for in a beautifully made California Chardonnay: it's got a nice low pH, that sense of richness, textural complexity and high tones. It's not pervasive, not in your face, not cloying. It has a sense of minerality and a savory component. When all those things become one and they start to blur together and you can’t pick them out—that’s when a wine becomes truly magical to me." Well done!

2017 was a lovely vintage at Kistler. Winemaker Jason Kesner says that beginning in 2016, “our focus shifted—more toward natural pHs and less on sugars. We maintained that approach in 2017.” He goes on to explain, “It was a relatively moderate season. We had mixed conditions during bloom, which led to low crops, but we have low crops anyway. The biggest challenge was that Labor Day heat. If we didn’t have the heat, I think we would have finished up four to five days later than we did. But we made the decision to pick as opposed to letting fruit sit through the heat. We started harvesting eight days before the heat and finished picking the Sunday before Labor Day. It was 117 degrees on the crush pad the last day we harvested. We did several 21-hour days to get it all in.” Stylistically, “It’s a tale of two vintages for me, potentially,” Kesner says. “I’d be surprised if the wines harvested after the heat aren’t a different set of wines than those that came in before the heat. The real challenge was fitting in four to five days of work in two days. It left a memory, let me put it that way. Stylistically, the 2017s are an interesting marriage between the 2015s and the 2016s. There’s a richness, a beautiful, light layer of fat woven through the wines—a gloss, or marbling if you will, with that energy and verve of the 2016s from our focus on pHs.”

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Information

Origin

California, California

Other wines from this producer

Chardonnay, Kistler Vineyard, Sonoma Valley

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