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Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2011
In 1971, Davis acquired vineyard land in the Napa Valley, near St. Helena. After unsuccess-fully attempting to build a winery on the property in 1973 (due to a moratorium on new winery construction by the Napa county planning commission), the Bynum Family -- Davis' wife Dorothy, son Hampton and daughter Susan -- purchased the 83-acre River Bend Ranch in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. On the property was a 1950's hop kiln which the Bynum Family converted into the winery and permanent home. "A friend convinced us to come over to the Russian River Valley. You can grow better grapes there anyway," Bynum chuckled.
In the first few years of operation at the new winery, grapes were hauled over from Napa and crushed along with local Russian River Valley fruit. This ended when the Napa property was sold off in 1976. During this period, the Bynum Family made their first pinot noir -- the 1973 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard was the first ever pinot to carry a Russian River designation.
Today, Davis Bynum Winery crushes about 250 to 275 ton of grapes annually (which makes about 15,000 cases of wine), bottling premium varietals under the Davis Bynum label. It is still family oriented: Davis oversees the vineyards and finances, though he now leaves winemaking decisions in the capable hands of Gary Farrell. His son, Hampton, oversees the daily operations at the winery as well as sales, and is responsible for product development. During harvest, Hampton helps with winemaking. Dorothy, Davis' wife, oversees the landscaping and a building improvement program.
A standout region for its decidedly Californian take on Burgundian varieties, The Russian River Valley is named for the eponymous river which flows through the region. While there are warm pockets of the AVA, it is mostly a cool-climate growing region thanks to breezes and fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reign supreme in Russian River, with the best examples demonstrating a unique combination of richness and restraint. The cool weather makes Russian River an ideal AVA for sparkling wine production, utilizing the aforementioned varieties. Zinfandel also performs exceptionally well here. Within the Russian River Valley lie the smaller appellations of Chalk Hill and Green Valley. The former, further from the ocean, is relatively warm, with a focus on red and white Bordeaux varieties. The latter is the coolest, foggiest parcel of the Russian River Valley and is responsible for outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
One of the most popular and versatile white wine grapes, Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made. In Burgundy, Chardonnay produces some of the finest white wines in the world, typically tending towards minimal intervention in the winery and at its best resulting in remarkable longevity. This grape is popular throughout the world, but perhaps its second most important home is in California, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia, South America, South Africa, and New Zealand are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay’s flavors tend towards grapefruit, green apple, minerals, and white stone fruit, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of fig, melon, and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut, and spice (as well as texture), while malolactic fermentation can impart soft, buttery acidity.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with simple seafood, light chicken dishes, and salads. Richer Chardonnays marry well with cream or oil-based sauces.
Since the 1990s, big, oaky, buttery Chardonnays from California have enjoyed explosive popularity. More recently, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, towards a clean, crisp style that rarely utilizes new oak. These Old-World style wines have been dubbed the “New California Chardonnays,” and anyone who claims they do not like Chardonnay should give them a try.