There are two basic styles of making Chardonnay in California which Navarro has embraced for decades. With this wine we have added a third. The first method is to ferment and age Chardonnay in new French oak barrels and encourage a secondary fermentation. This is the style of Navarro's Première Reserve, with plenty of oak and butter. The second technique is a cool fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel followed by aging the wine in seasoned sixty gallon barrels. This is the style of Navarro's Mendocino, with lots of pretty fruit and aromatics. In 2010 our Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer vines bore particularly light crops so there were a couple of oak ovals (600-900 gallon casks) available.
Workers harvesting Navarro's Hammer Olson Dijon clone Chardonnay vineyard. In the late 70's we planted late-ripening California clones of Chardonnay which in the cool Anderson Valley required de-acidification via a secondary malolactic fermentation. This wine was made from vines we planted in the 90's, which are various Dijon clones imported from Burgundy; they ripen earlier, with balanced acidity, making secondary fermentation unnecessary.
Keeping oak ovals clean is time-consuming work. We use stainless steel tanks for grape handling but we sometimes prefer to ferment and age our wines in oak. Fermenting in a large oak cask allows the wine to clarify naturally over time thus avoiding excessive filtration which can diminish the wine. After the oak cask has been used for several years it imparts no oak flavor into the wine and as the wine rests on the lees (spent yeast), it develops a subtle yeasty note.
We decided to age and ferment a small lot of Chardonnay that frequently is part of our Première Reserve bottling, but without barrels or malolactic fermentation. We destemmed the fruit and transferred the first squeeze into a refrigerated stainless steel tank to settle the solids. Three days later we racked off the clear juice into an oval. Unlike barrels, the cask was outfitted with an internal stainless panel that fostered a long, cool fermentation and, best of all, the wine clarified naturally avoiding bulk filtration. No oak, no butter, just pure apple-pear Chardonnay fruit with the added pleasure of hints of baked bread from nine months of yeast contact. We enjoyed it with panko crusted Petrale sole but there are lots of possibilities. Gold Medal winner. Best of Class.