The California Department of Agriculture reported that production of Chardonnay grapes in Mendocino decreased by twenty-three percent in 2014 and a further twelve percent in 2015. This correlates with our experience and this bottling is our second smallest production of Mendocino Chardonnay in twenty years. Like its predecessors, this wine is a cuvée produced with grapes from two distinct Mendocino appellations: forty-five percent Anderson Valley and fifty-five percent Potter Valley. Anderson Valley's Chardonnay flavors bring to mind citrus and poached pear; Potter Valley fruit more resembles red apple and melon. Rather than oak or fermentation flavors dominating, the emphasis in Navarro's Mendocino Chardonnay bottling is the grapes' fruit, and the combination of the two appellations presents a panoply of juicy flavors.
Navarro's Hammer Olsen Chardonnay vineyard is divided into three blocks. The X block is planted to four different "Dijon" clones trained on a Lyre trellis. The Lyre was developed in France to maximize solar efficiency and improve ripening. In each French appellation, laws specify how the vines are to be trained. Bureaucracies move slowly and unfortunately the Lyre is not an "appellation approved" trellis in France. French wine produced from Lyre-grown grapes cannot be labeled with the appellation, thus reducing the price. It's no surprise that there are more Lyre trellises in use in California than in all of France.
Sarah rating Chardonnay in a morning staff tasting. In April we taste all of the various Chardonnay lots assessing their aroma-flavor profile and overall quality. During the first blind tasting, when we are trying to assemble a cuvée, the most outstanding lot becomes the base wine; we then add varying amounts of a second wine with an aroma-flavor profile that could make the base wine more complete and better balanced. The winning wine becomes the base wine for the next tasting where we try to blend in some of another lot. This continues until we cannot improve upon the base wine.
In an unlikely twist, coastal Anderson Valley Chardonnay was harvested first and the warmer Potter Valley, with a shorter growing season, was harvested last. After destemming and pressing, the juice was cool-fermented in stainless steel to highlight the grapes' flavors. The wines were aged nine months in seasoned French oak barrels and in June 2015, after a series of five tastings, a final cuvée was selected, which was produced from seven individual Chardonnay vineyard blocks. Although we don't think the lower production is responsible for the wine's quality, this bottling has already reaped four Gold Medals and was declared Best of Class twice.