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Unoaked Chardonnay 2017

Producer: Williams Selyem
Region: Sonoma
Appellation: Sonoma County
Country: USA
Classification: AVA
Wine Type: White
Variety: Chardonnay
Bottle Size: 750 ml
Alcohol: 13.9%
Soil: Sandy silt-loam, clay
Farming Practices: Sustainable
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Cellar Profile


Started in the 1970s by longtime friends Burt Williams and Ed Selyem, this was one of the first “garagistes” in Sonoma County. Using grapes sourced from small vineyards in the Russian River Valley, the original name “Hacienda del Rio” was later changed to Williams Selyem. Experimenting with new techniques and sourcing from the best vineyards in the region afforded the wines such acclaim that they were presold long before release, something that continues to this day. In the United States, there is a 6 month to 1 year wait list to be put on the mailing list to buy wines for release. In 1997, viticulturist and entrepreneur John Dyson and his wife Kathe purchased the Williams Selyem brand that had become too big for the original partners to manage. By that time, annual production was more than 10,000 cases – still small by most industry standards, but much larger than Burt and Ed had ever imagined when they bottled their first few barrels! The new owners brought famed winemaker Bob Cabral on board and the winery really began to take shape. They purchased their own vineyards, including a couple from the cool Sonoma Coast AVA, which allowed them to experiment with Burgundian varieties. They discovered that in the warmer parts of the Russian River Valley, Dijon clones of Pinot Noir ripen too quickly, so they utilize California heritage clones, with thicker skins and longer hang times, instead. Williams Selyem produces single vineyard offerings from their own vineyards as well as from the best growers in Sonoma, leveraging contracts signed over 30 years ago. The wines are still fermented in open-top dairy tanks, like they were in the 70s, using an indigenous Williams Selyem yeast clone discovered from a Zinfandel ferment in 1984. Non-interventionist techniques in the vineyard, coupled with a keen eye on phenolic ripeness, 25% whole-cluster fermentation and aging only in Francois Freres Burgundian oak barrels brought international acclaim to the wines, though they were (and are) almost impossible to find outside the US. In 2009, Wine Enthusiast gave the 2006 Litton Estate Pinot Noir 100 points, the first North American Pinot to be awarded a perfect score by a major international publication. Today, Jeff Managhas is Winemaker, with Chris Bowland managing the vineyards. Jeff prefers a more subtle, Old-World approach to winemaking and his first wines have been met with overwhelming critical approval.

Region


The Russian River Valley AVA, which lies in the geographical heart of Sonoma, is home to over 15000 vineyard acres and 70 wineries. Fifteen miles long, it winds its way through Mendocino County AVA, Alexander Valley AVA and Healdsburg, before heading out to the Pacific. Warmer than Sonoma Coast AVA, but cooler than areas further inland such as the Alexander Valley AVA, the area’s dense morning and evening fog banks have become synonymous with the region, helping cool the grapes from the warm days. It is this diurnal change that allows for the production of world-class cooler-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as fantastic warmer-climate Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are varied soils within this appellation, but most share large amounts of gravel and some measure of clay.

Vineyard


The Chardonnay for this blend was sourced from the Drake Estate Vineyard (Dijon clone, separate block irrigation), MacGregor Estate Vineyard (30 acres, Wente clone, drip irrigation), Simpatico Vineyard and the Lazy W Ranch.

Varieties


Chardonnay is the world’s most famous white-wine grape and also one of the most widely planted, with the most highly regarded expressions of the variety coming from Burgundy and California. Climate plays a major role in dictating which fruit flavours a Chardonnay will have. Broadly speaking, warm regions such as California tend to give more tropical styles. While many Chardonnays have high aromatic complexity, this is usually due to winemaking techniques (particularly the use of oak) rather than the variety’s intrinsic qualities. Malolactic fermentation gives distinctive buttery aromas. Fermentation and/or maturation in oak barrels contributes notes of vanilla, smoke and hints of sweet spices such as clove and cinnamon. Extended lees contact while in barrel imparts biscuity, doughy flavours.

Winemaking


Grapes were manually harvested and carefully transported to the winery where they are produced with minimal intervention. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel with the wine being aged on the primary yeast in tank.

Tasting Notes 


Notes of spiced pear and yellow apple come to the forefront of the aromatics, and a touch of jasmine adds a wonderful lift to the nose. Fruit sourced from mature vines provides great acidity and livens the palate, while balancing the tannin structure. Subtle minerality is apparent on the nose and palate and further adds depth and complexity.