Conversations with Evelyn – Episode No. 2

This is the second in a series of wine related conversations between Taft Street Winemaker Evelyn White and Mike Tierney.

This conversation focuses on Taft Street’s go-to wine – Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

Mike Tierney: Everybody loves our Chardonnay. We won our second BEST OF CLASS award and the wine has just been released. So what’s the secret?

Evelyn White: Our goal is to make fruit forward Chardonnay with enough oak background to add spice and complexity. No 100% malolactic fermentation; no heavy handed use of new French oak: slow sur lees ageing; no over-the-top Chardonnay.

MT: How do you “use” oak?

EW: We want to produce a balanced wine and I feel a selection of good French oak helps bring out the flavors and delicacy we want.

MT: French?

EW: Yes. French oak seems to work particularly well with Chardonnay fruit grown in the Russian River Valley. It works with Pinot Noir as well.

MT: We hear a lot about great wine originating from the vineyard. In many circles it seems the conventional wisdom is the winemaker’s job is simply to not screw up the vinification process. Your reaction?

EW: Let me put it this way. Great wine starts in the vineyard. We are fortunate that our growers are skilled and experienced. The fruit they bring us is hand picked; with high quality components the job of creating the best possible blend is made easier.

MT: We’ve had great success in each of our last three vintages, yet growing conditions varied considerably. Let’s compare 2007, 2008 and 2009.

EW: Away we go.

In 2007 we had an early spring and warm summer. The light harvest was early and the wines were delicate.

In 2008 we had it all: frost, heat waves, high winds and fire. Another early harvest, which was fortunate because heavy rains fell in mid October. A challenging year, but good wines were made.

The 2009 wines that are now in barrel reflect a virtually perfect growing season. Both the Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir arrived in pristine condition and are shaping up to be memorable wines.

MT: Can’t wait.

EW: Me either. Let’s try a barrel sample while we check on my daffodils.

MT: Splendid idea.

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