We've been growing Chardonnay for thirty years. You'd think we would know our favorite clones by now. For decades we favored two vineyard blocks for our Première Reserve: the Tasting Room block planted in 1979 and a field we call Hammer Olsen. We originally planted these fields on the customary AXR1 rootstock with bud wood from "mass selections" of two renowned California vineyards. Then phylloxera hit, surprising every grower who thought AXR1 was resistant to the nasty louse. As AXR1's reputation tumbled, a new generation of rootstocks were being peddled by persistent nurserymen. Why not plant our old favorite clones on these new rootstocks? One reason AXR1 was so popular is that its vigor hides any lurking defects in the bud wood. The newer rootstocks are more languid, meaning viral diseases would be more likely to show up. Happily we had other choices. In the late eighties we had added extensions to our favorite fields using California certified clone #4 and the French certified clones #76 and #95.
This field was originally planted to clone 4, which ripened so late that the grapes often frosted. In our climate clone 4 doesn't have much flavor until the grapes are overripe which creates an alcoholic monster. In 2003 we grafted it over to clones #76 and #95 which ripen two weeks earlier and produce flavorful grapes at normal sugar levels.
We aged the Première Reserve in 100% medium toast Vosges oak. Barrels are retired when the vanillin-oak flavors disappear. As you can tell from this photo, these retired Navarro barrels were used imaginatively by enology students to create go-carts for the University of California Davis picnic day parade. They appropriately named one AXR1 after the rootstock that is being retired throughout California.
These virus-free selections could work well with the lower vigor rootstocks. Frankly, Clone #4 proved pretty dull but Clones #76 and #95 are Navarro's new darlings. At eight years of age they produced our single best lot of 2002 Chardonnay. Rich with butterscotch, lemon, tangerine and toasty meringue flavors, our tasting notes say "Nice, nice, nice." Gold Medal winner. Best of Class.
Navarro's vineyard crew thinning Hammer Olsen Chardonnay. "91. Underneath the buttered rum creaminess of malolactic, this follows a clean simple line. The fruit is firm and direct, a flavor of dry white peach to fill out the creamy texture, a cool, coastal white to pour during Dungeness crab season." -Wine and Spirits Magazine