2021 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay
Site History: The vineyard’s original planting dates back to 1984, making it the second oldest established vineyard in what is now the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Plantings of entire blocks have happened in 1986, 1987, 1990, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2010. The site includes 25.5 acres of Pinot Noir (20 acres of Pommard, 3 acres of Dijon 114, 3.1 acres of Wadensvil and 1.4 acres of Coury Clone), 2.5 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and 2 acres of Chardonnay (Dijon 76 and 96). Patricia Green Cellars purchased the property in July, 2000. About 20 acres were planted at that point, including Pinot Gris, which was mercifully grafted over to Pinot Noir in 2002. The vineyard houses the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines in the Willamette Valley. It has also produced the only Pinot Noir to receive a score of 100 from a major, national wine publication.
Site Characteristics: The vineyard starts, lightly sloped in the middle/bottom of the hill at the winery and moves quickly up a steep slope and eventually all the way to the top of the hill where it falls of 360 degrees, planted in every direction. The blocks represent palpable differences in aspect, elevation, clone and vine age. This has allowed for numerous bottlings based upon unique wine characteristics making it the vineyard with the single most Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings having come from it in the state of Oregon. The vineyard has a thin layer of extremely dry and silty topsoil that sits upon mostly a hill of shale and sandstone. Toward the very bottom of the site some deeper, very soft blue-gray clay becomes the subsoil. It is highly drained, erosion-prone soil. The vineyard is farmed entirely organically and is dry farmed. Large, deep stands of trees on the east and west sides of the property frame the vineyard, provide shade at certain times of they day and act as a home for a variety of woodland creatures including mountain lion, bobcat, black bear, coyote and deer. Unlike vineyards even 2-3 miles to the east, the Estate Vineyard receives very little wind during the growing season. The planted portion of the property ranges from 235’ to around 485’.
The Block: In 2000 we planted the largest remaining section of unused land on the property. It was north of what would become to be known as the Hallelujah Block and east of the Wadensvil Block. Despite sloping to the north and east we anticipated very good things for this section of Pinot Noir. Over the years those expectations went largely unmet. Largely the fruit that came off the block was fine but not special. For years we chalked the underwhelming results to younger vines. However, by the later 2010s it became clear that something was amiss. This block was adjacent to two of the best Pinot Noir blocks in the vineyard yet produced grapes that were nothing like its neighbors’. In 2018 we decided to break the block into two blocks. The upper block, adjacent to the Wadensvil, was fermented separately from the lower portion that ran down a secondary hill within the block to two stands of trees. The results were striking. The upper portion produced exactly the sort of wine we had been expecting while the lower portion was quite dull. Despite having only produced 3 bottlings of Chardonnay at this point we made the decision to graft over the lower portion of the block to Chardonnay. This, in Oregon, is a pretty radical notion. Nonetheless, we felt it was going to be the correct decision. In the winter of 2019 we bartered for cuttings of fruit from our AVA neighbor, Brick House Wines. We received cuttings of Dijon 76 and Dijon 96 and top-grafted them massale-style over the roughly 2-acre section. We did not receive any fruit in that vintage (which is normal) and did not use the Chardonnay in 2020. So, 2021 marks the inaugural Estate Chardonnay and the latest coming into its own of any block in the entire site.
Farming Practices: We have done the management of this property internally since we purchased it in 2000 with the exception of 2014 and 2015 when Sterling Fox’s management service did the work. Also, at that time, the vineyard was switched entirely to organic farming practices and remains so to this day. The vineyard has always been dry farmed.
Picking Dates, Tonnages, Tons/Acre: 5.01 tons harvested September 21, 2021.
Winemaking: All the fruit was immediately pressed after picking, allowed to settle, racked and inoculated with a yeast specifically designed for Chardonnay. The wine finished primary in two sandstone amphora and one concrete cube after about four weeks. It was then racked into barrels and the wine was in barrel, with no extra SO2 addition beyond the minimal amount the juice was pressed with, for 14 months. It was then racked to stainless tank and given one SO2 addition and was allowed five months in tank. This wine went through a complete secondary fermentation and received only a light filtration prior to bottling.
Barrels: In 2021 we made the decision to use only Damy barrels for our Chardonnays. We had been using Damy as part of the Chardonnay bottling since 2017, but went for the full spectrum of it based upon the wines from the 2017-2019 vintages. This is a combination of two new, one 1-year and one two-year puncheons as well as 3 new regular sized barrel. This makes for a 62% new barrel usage.
Winemaking and Notes: We were hopeful that the Estate Chardonnay would be special. We knew it would have different characteristics to it than our Durant Vineyard Chardonnay, because there is really no difference between how a Chardonnay grape would respond to the soil type differences than a Pinot Noir grape would. We had the differences between the amphora fermentations and the concrete fermentation to consider. We also had three 228 liter barrels and four 500 liter barrels. All in all, there were many factors in play. There were times when we thought the wine tasted wonderful and other times when it seemed to be in a weird space. We simply held to our belief that we had latched on to a very good picking date, had excellent juice to work with and had good, strong, clean fermentations. We were working with, as we always attempt to do, extremely low levels of SO2 (basically zero free SO2 for the duration of elevage) so by December of 2022 the wine wanted to be refreshed. This is when we racked it into a stainless tank and gave it a good dose of SO2 to bring it back to life and started to see the results of what we had set out on so many months, even years, ago.
This is a very, very intense Chardonnay. It has a wealth of flavors to it but lemon curd, nuts and minerality are the stars of the show. The barrels lend a beautiful overtone, for the moment, to the wine, but this should become more demure as time passes. The texture is rich and full but the acidity is ever-present giving this wine both heft and drive. There is already a deepness to this Chardonnay that gives it complexity beyond its youthfulness. The soil that powers the incredible verve and flavor profile of our many Estate Pinot Noirs is on full display in this wine. The sense of a crystalline subtext to this wine is unmistakable even with the wine being lush with fruit. This is a surprising and wonderful wine from a section of the vineyard we call Ceremony Block.
The wine finished with a TA of 6.4 and a pH of 3.28. The free SO2 was left at under 25 ppm due to the low pH and total SO2 was just over 75 parts.