The 2014 Bench Chardonnay is perfumed with aromas of crisp autumn apples, mandarin orange and lime zest. Hints of toasted baguette add an interesting layer of complexity. The wine has an overall softness, but also retains a refreshing vibrancy, dancing on the palate with sweet flavors of pears and apples balanced with fine acidity that persists through the finish. A light layer of vanilla extract is laced through the body of the wine and strikes a beautiful final sweet note in the midst of a very long finish.
The maritime environment of the Carneros grape-growing region delivers cool, foggy mornings followed by warm days that slowly nurture ripening. This seaside influence is particularly acute at our Poseidon Vineyard; one can see the masts of boats bobbing in the water just a few steps to the south. The prominent feature of our vineyard is the gravelly, geological “Bench”—the elevated, rocky, former riverbank of the Carneros Creek—that runs serpentine through the center of the site. From this unique geological feature spring some of our most distinct, small-production wines.
Drought led conversations all over the farmlands and vineyards of California in early 2014. However, strong, compact rains in February and March helped secure a solid growing season for the vines through spring and early summer. The size of our crop was minimally affected, but it was slightly lower than the previous two years. During harvest, there were no extreme heat waves, which helped moderate ripening. The tricky issue was that, with the record-breaking drought, the vines ripened fruit earlier than ever before. Most of our varietals were ripening at the same time in early September and it felt odd to be picking Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Timing aside, the modest temperatures of late summer and fall offered us the luxury of picking at optimum ripeness.
The fruit was pressed whole cluster in small batches and then barrel fermented in new, 300 liter barrels that were lightly toasted specifically for this wine. These special, larger format barrels provided all the good things that barrel fermentation brings to Chardonnay: full body and sweeter flavors. The unique low toast of the barrels ensured that the fruit aromas and flavors would shine through. A special yeast strain was used to promote a long fermentation, adding a new level of complexity to this wine. Lees stirring after malolactic fermentation was employed to boost the smooth, elegant texture.
Michael Terrien, Founding Winemaker