2011 Best Chardonnay: St. Francis Winery and Vineyards
Author: Virginie Boone
May, 2011 Issue
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards has been voted Best Chardonnay in the 2011 NorthBay biz readers poll.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
in Kenwood has been making wine for 40 years, working with grapes from around Sonoma County to offer memorable, fruit-forward wines. This year, NorthBay biz
readers recognize the winery’s Chardonnay (priced from $15 to $26) as the Best.
“Along with its exceptional taste and reasonable price,” said director of winemaking Tom Mackey, “people like that it’s locally grown and produced.”
Mackey has been making wine at St. Francis since 1983; he’s responsible for establishing its reputation for Chardonnay and Merlot, and for introducing Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel to the winery’s lineup.
“We’re very bullish on Sonoma County fruit,” he adds. “Our Chardonnay comes mostly from the Russian River Valley and Carneros. These two regions can be a fairly cool, so we bring in a small amount of Chardonnay from warmer areas in the county.” Part of he Chardonnay production includes night picking and whole-cluster pressing to make a higher-quality wine.
Helping oversee the day-to-day with all of St. Francis’ white wines is associate winemaker Katie Madigan. “When I arrived at St. Francis, I wasn’t a heavy Chardonnay drinker,” she admits. “So my inclination is to make a refreshing white wine that may also appeal to other, non-Chardonnay drinkers, along with our consistent fan base. What sets us apart is we keep every lot separate until blending.”
She also goes light on the oak during fermentation and aging, working with 30 percent new oak, mostly French. Starting with the 2010 vintage, all new oak that’s purchased for Madigan’s Chardonnay will be 100 percent French oak, as she finds it keeps the wine softer.
The 2009 Chardonnay is the current release, a wine made in a cool vintage. “The natural acidity levels are higher, you get the citrus flavors with pineapple,” she describes. “It’ll go with a wider range of food. In the cooler years, you get a little more fruit expression and natural smoothness.”
Madigan has been conducting more small-lot experimentation with her Chardonnay, including making a non-barrel fermented Chardonnay that visitors to the St. Francis tasting room will be able to taste, in addition to a handful of single-vineyard designated wines.
In addition St. Francis offers a white-wine only club for tasters who prefer those varietals. Besides Chardonnay, St. Francis makes Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, and has planted Marsanne and Roussanne on the estate to eventually create a white Rhone-style blend.
The winery offers a range of tastings, including many with food, presided over by Executive Winery Chef David Bush.
Enjoy a classic tasting of four wines for $10, or stay a while for a wine and food pairing, Thursday through Monday, with seatings at either 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. ($35), where an assortment of small plates will be paired with wines. A smaller charcuterie pairing can also be arranged, either fireside or on the patio ($20 to $25) daily May through October.
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