Santa Maria ValleyCHBN

I’ve been amused seeing the development in California of what is called un-oaked chardonnay. It’s a natural reaction to the lavishly oaked, cloyingly rich chardonnays from Napa. How winemakers got so far off track producing ever oakier, more ponderous wines—while thinking they were making the ultimate expression of chardonnay–is beyond me.  Though I have my quibbles about the results of fermenting and aging in tanks, some special wines are made that way, and it is surely is a step in the right direction. What the un-oaked advocates have right is that too much new oak destroys what is distinctive about chardonnay.

Where I diverge from tank-fermenting advocates is in my love of what fermenting and aging in older barrels can bring out in wine. Some oxidation takes place, allowing the flavors to mature and giving richness to an otherwise lean structure. Chardonnay fermented in tank can be successful if the fruit is particularly expressive, but my favorite examples are almost always aged in older wood.

For years we produced our Bien Nacido chardonnay by fermenting and aging it in oak barrels, one third of them new. While that gave the wine a rich toasty character, we found that the new oak made it heavier and less friendly with food–and dominated over the considerable charms that the vineyard possessed. Since 2000, our Bien Nacido has been our argument in favor of using only older barrels in the production of chardonnay. At first, some people couldn’t understand what was so great about a wine with some restraint, but these days people are embracing the idea that wine is not a meal in itself but a beautiful synergistic accompaniment to food.

In 2007 the vines were drought stressed and yielded a very small crop, giving us a wine that is expressive and flavorful. While its youthful acidity stands out at the moment, this wine is already a great match with rich flavored foods.

Blend: 100% Chardonnay | Alc: 14.0% | Vinification: 100% Neutral French Oak | Barrel Aging: 10 Months | Total Production: 868 cases

Press Reviews

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

“The 2007 Chardonnay Bien Nacido, which reveals a slight greenish hue to its straw color, offers smoky, earthy, orange blossom, and lemon oil notes. Full-bodied with good acidity.” – RP 90 Points

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar

“Yellow-gold. Deep, musky aromas of pear, orange and smoky lees, with an undertone of dusty minerals. Weighty and round, with palate-saturating citrus and orchard fruit flavors and chewy texture. Becomes sweeter with air and finishes with lingering melon and mineral qualities. This is drinking very well right now.” – JR 91 Points