Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay is rich, but vibrant. In its youth it is filled with the sharp signature of the chardonnay grape: pear, pineapple, citrus, green apple. Also present when young is a steely, minerally quality and bright citrus crispness. As the chardonnay matures it gains nuances of sweet pear, honey, ripe apple, vanilla, hazelnut, smoke, and toasted almond.
The majority of the chardonnay is fermented in custom-made stainless-steel tanks that hold one ton. About 10-20% is fermented in barrels, and aged 10 months sur lie with the lees stirred up to six months. The chardonnay is allowed a short period of skin contact in the one-ton stainless steel fermentation tanks before being pressed. It is transferred into other tanks of various sizes and allowed a period of cold settling prior to being inoculated for fermentation.
Hanzell Vineyards uses almost exclusively Tonnellerie Sirugue barrels from Nuits-St.-Georges, France to age the chardonnay. Approximately 25-40% is allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation on average. The chardonnay ages for one year in barrel, of which 25% are new.
"This year's vines started growing rather late because of cool temperatures and robust rain from November through February. It was a steady moderate summer which was mild enough until the end of September and beginning of October. Then for a few days a flash of heat ripened the fruit almost faster than we could pick it, and we finished with very ripe and very flavorful clusters of Chardonnay."
"We think our '98 is a stunner. It starts out very brightly in the nose with nice, fruity pear-peach-apple. It's got a very small touch of malolactic influence and then a larger wave of that mineral, almost fruit-like quality that emanates from the lower slopes of the Mayacamas range. Its finish is powerful and stays for the longest time! This seems a particularly powerful expression of the great ancient Burgundy clone of Chardonnay that we grow and cherish at Hanzell."
Industrialist James D. Zellerbach acquired the 200 acre Hanzell estate on the Mayacamas slopes above the town of Sonoma in 1948, and in 1952 he planted 2 acres of Pinot Noir and 4 acres of Chardonnay on the site. The Ambassador's ambition was to create a small vineyard and winery dedicated to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Zellerbachs created the first vintage in 1957 and named their winery Hanzell, a contraction of Mrs. Hana Zellerbach's name.
Zellerbach hired Ralph Bradford Webb in 1956 to be his winemaker and Webb would be integral to the winemaking for the first two decades of Hanzell. Webb introduced four significant advances in enology that would subsequently be adopted by many other wineries, predicating consistency and quality for the entire industry -temperature-controlled fermentation, the use of French Oak barrels, the practice of "blanketing" young wines in tank with inert gas and the practice of induced malolactic fermentation.
The original 6 acre vineyard has grown to 42 acres today, allowing Hanzell to produce 6,000 cases annually: three-quarters Chardonnay and one-quarter Pinot Noir, retaining its identity as a very small winery dedicated to making the Burgundian varietals at the Grand Cru level. Through five decades, Hanzell has pursued empirical winemaking and established traditions on which great cellar-worthy winemaking is predicated.
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Twice as large as Napa in size, Sonoma County only makes about half as much wine as its northeasterly neighbor. Because of its vast size, however, Sonoma is able to achieve far more diversity within its borders, which include sub-AVAs that are climatically varied. The atmosphere of Sonoma is decidedly laid-back and down-to-earth, but the wines are serious and well-made, ranging in style from subtle and elegant to rich and powerful. Grape varieties are more varied here, from Pinot Noir and Zinfandel to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
The largest sub-AVAs of Sonoma include Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Valley. Each sub-AVA, with its own micro-climate, is unique in its grape varieties and styles of wine. Dry Creek makes a mean Zinfandel while Russian River produces stand up Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Alexander Valley makes some of the better Cabernet Sauvignons in the county and Sonoma Valley creates excellent wines from all the above varieties. Other grapes found throughout Sonoma include Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Syrah.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country unto itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Crisp
Light to medium bodied wines that are high in acid and light to medium fruit. Typically no oak.
Fruity & Smooth
Light to medium bodied wines with lots of juicy fruit, typically medium acid and medium oak.
Rich & Creamy
Full bodied wines that have typically undergone malo-lactic fermentation and/or spent time in oak.