By Celia Strong
Well, that certainly sounds positive. As we start another one of our many wine “journeys” together, it occurs to me that “wonderful” is a pretty accurate description of what we’re doing and accomplishing. Learning about a new wine, spending time together doing it, enjoying the new wine. All a wonderful, whole, big package. One of the best parts of each week is the pieces and parts we learn about each new wine. Pieces and parts we use to make it our wine.
This week we get pieces and parts for a California Chardonnay. One from a winery in Kenwood, in Sonoma County. Kenwood is an unincorporated community located between Santa Rosa and the town of Sonoma. In 1887, the Sonoma Land & Improvement Company owned the land that became Kenwood. The company laid out lots on the land in preparation for a railroad line coming through the next year. At first, the site was called “Rancho Los Guilicos,” the Mexican name for the property. But, “Guilicos,” the Spanish name for a local Indian tribe, was hard to pronounce. The name “Kenwood” was chosen as the new name, but why “Kenwood” is subject to various stories. Today, the town of Kenwood covers just over five square miles, has a dry-summer-subtropical climate, and is home to just over a dozen wineries. Our winery, Landmark, is one of these.
Landmark was founded, in 1974, by Bill Mabry and his family. One of the original investors was Damaris Deere Ford. She was the great-great-granddaughter of John Deere, who invented the first steel plow. By 1989, Damaris was the sole proprietor of Landmark and moved the winery to its current location. She chose to make Chardonnay wines, exclusively, and was responsible for creating their flagship wine, Landmark Overlook Chardonnay. In 1993, Damaris hired Helen Turley. Together, these two women created Landmark’s signature style of Chardonnay. They pressed whole clusters of grapes when they made their wines, used native yeast strains and French oak barrels for aging. Landmark’s 1995 Overlook Chardonnay was on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List. The first of six times. (Since 1995, Landmark has expanded their wine production to include Pinot Noir and Syrah, too. But, we have to save these for a future “journey.”) Today, under winemaker Greg Stach, Landmark combines traditional techniques with a “less is more” philosophy. Great wine begins in the vineyard, so Stach and his staff only intervene to make sure they have consistency and quality. They rely on their grapes’ own intense flavors and specific vineyards’ characteristics.
Which gets us to our Landmark Overlook Chardonnay. This wine is 100% Chardonnay, made with grapes from several vineyards within Sonoma County. Sometimes, as many as two dozen different sites, so you can imagine the layers of flavors. All these grapes are hand harvested and each lot is lightly pressed – whole bunches. The juice is allowed to settle for a day and then it is put into French oak barrels where the fermentation occurs spontaneously. The yeast cells that come off the grape skins and from inside the barrels do their work automatically. The juice, then the wine, stays in the barrels for about ten months. They are stirred twice a month to round out the textures and flavors of the wine. The Overlook Chard is a bright, gold color with very complex aromas and flavors. Pears, Meyer lemon, sage, lemon curd, quince, apricots, baked pie crusts, baking spices all rush out at you. This wine has some weight to it, too, so it pairs well with salmon, tuna, sea bass and other full body seafood, poultry and even pork. Roasted vegetables and tropical salsas are great with it, as well. When you first taste this wine, it makes you think of way more expensive Chardonnays. But more about that in a moment.
In 2011, Landmark Vineyards was acquired by Fiji Water. Yes, the bottled water in the square bottles. Fiji is owned by The Wonderful Company – a huge company that handles assorted top quality foods. With what we’ve just learned about the history and winemaking at Landmark, “wonderful” is a good description for the Overlook Chard. With its usual cost of $25 to $30, we could have “wonderful” once in a while. At $19.97? We can have “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful”. So let’s! Enjoy.