There is a distinct reason that winemakers like making Chardonnay. It puts their craft, and consequently them, front and center stage. Unlike other white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, which is herbal and grassy or Gewürztraminer, which is heady with floral aromas, ripe Chardonnay is more chameleon. That means the winemaker's choices in the cellar become paramount. These decisions include whether to encourage a secondary malolactic fermentation that adds buttery tones, the length and temperature of the fermentation and perhaps above all the choice of oak cooperage including which cooper, which forest the wood should come from, how long the wood should dry, the toast level, whether to toast the head of the barrel, not to mention how long the wine should rest on the yeast, if it should be stirred and how much time it should spend in oak. When Navarro's staff blind tasted a dozen 2004 white Burgundies we thought that we would be able to pick out our favorite appellation or vineyard. Nope.
Starting in 1992 Jim has aimed for a consistent style with Navarro's Mendocino Chardonnay and has perfected it in more recent vintages. He uses a combination of Anderson and Potter Valley fruit, blended from barrel, oval and stainless steel fermented wine. The stainless part does not undergo a secondary fermentation.
Harvesting Hammer Olsen Chardonnay early in the morning when the fruit is cold. Pickers appreciate the ample size of Chardonnay clusters
We ended up picking out our favorite winemakers. This might help explain why even though the chilly 2005 Chardonnay harvest occurred almost four weeks later than in 2004, the two vintages taste amazingly similar. This Mendocino bottling is less buttery than the Première Reserve and the lovely apple-melon flavors and moderate price tag entitle Navarro's winemaker Jim Klein, to take a bow. Gold Medal winner.
"In Chardonnay is one of the happiest of all combinations: the grower loves to grow it; the winemaker loves to fashion it; and we all love to drink it."
-Vines, Grapes and Wines
by Jancis Robinson.