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Ojai, Chardonnay, Bien Nacido, Santa Barbara 2017
The cool, fog laced Santa Maria Bench provides gently ripened chardonnay with great intricacy of mineral underpinnings and finely etched fruit. I found the new barrels I’d been using to ferment this wine in just clouded the soul of this site, and I pivoted toward the more transparent and zesty expression that you’ll find in this 2016.
This vintage provided a welcome return to cool, onshore breezes in Santa Maria, with harvest occurring a couple weeks later than previous drought years. Picking at moderate sugar levels preserved that delicious citrusy tilt and stony, floral aromas that this site wants to express. This chardonnay is different than our others though, in that at Bien Nacido we have “the old California clone” (UC Davis clone 4) planted rather than the more recently imported Dijon clones. This lineage is associated with that richer more tropical potential you see in much of the state. But here, rather than saturating, those characteristics appear as gently rendered warm-hued streaks of orange, fresh mango and bee pollen.
What’s fantastic about Bien Nacido chardonnay is how shapely, broad and full of flavor it can be, while also possessing terrific thrust and focused, minerally freshness. This 2016 is a textbook expression of the site in that sense. To open it soon would be to enjoy it for its racy and energetic character, but experience has taught me there’s no hurry with this wine: we’ve poured 20+ year old bottlings recently at our tasting room that still boast lots of spine and great elegance, so do with this what you will, but know the 2016’s chardonnays will develop well with time.
Vinification: Barrel Fermented in Neutral French Oak. Barrel Aging: 11 Months. Total Production: 870 cases
Adam Tolmach, a viticulture and oenology graduate of UC Davis, started the now infamous winery with fellow employee Jim Clendenen in 1982, Au Bon Climat. After nine years together Jim and Adam decided to follow separate paths. Having planted his own vineyard in Ojai in 1983 (The Ojai Vineyard), Adam decided to concentrate his efforts there. Experimenting with new plantings, new areas, and a wide selection of varietals. Adam set his intention to strive to make the very best wines possible, through quality and unique sites over quantity and mass-produced blends. Craft principals with a mindful intention. It took some 10 years to produce really exceptional, consistently delicious fruit. Adam took steps to convert the farming from sustainable to organic practices whilst fine tuning the winemaking process to as natural as possible; minimal use of sulphites, avoiding fining and filtration, also reducing new oak usage as much as possible. Adam's influence in the region and the respect from his peers is worth mentioning, where some sites are exclusive to their owners, often Adam will be one of the very few with privileged access, examples being Puerta del Mar (Jonata) and White Hawk (Sine Qua Non). After spending two decades learning to farm better grapes, physiological ripeness was not an issue anymore but over ripeness was. When grapes were ripe but not overripe, the resulting wines were more aromatic and possessed finer balance. After more experiments the following years Adam started picking his fruit slightly earlier, opening a new stylistic era for his wines. Years of experience and humble dedication to his craft, showed him how the cooler climate sites were always better balanced and more expressive terroirs, in search of elegance. 'Great vineyards have something unique to say, it's our job to capture those characteristics in a clear, unadorned way.' Adam Tolmach
Vinous 94pts (2016) - Ojai’s 2016 Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard is beautifully layered and expressive, with so much of the nuance that makes wines from this Santa Maria site so distinctive. Bright floral notes infuse the polished, nuanced finish in a Chardonnay endowed with terrific energy, cut and verve.
Wine Advocate 94pts (2016) -The 2016 Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard is a very classy wine, unwinding in the glass with notes of citrus zest, crisp orchard fruit, fresh peach, citrus blossom and subtle honeycomb. On the palate, it’s medium to full-bodied, bright and pure with a delicately glossy attack, deceptive mid-palate depth, and a long, focused finish. While this is quite understated in style, it reveals more and more dimension and nuance the longer it sits in the glass, and possesses the balance and structure to evolve gracefully for seven or eight years. 2018-2026
Jeb Dunnock 95pts (2016) - Leading off the Chardonnays, the 2016 Chardonnay Bien Nacido comes from unquestionably one of the Grand Cru sites in Santa Barbara County. This powerful, rich, rockingly textured effort offers loads of ripe orchard fruits, pineapple cream, and white flowers as well as that distinct salinity and minerality that’s the hallmark of this site. Beautifully layered, medium to full-bodied, with vibrant acidity, drink it any time over the coming decade or more