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By Marita Leonard
WWhen asked to describe a classic California Chardonnay I envision a buxom blonde with pouffy hair, pouty lips glistening with exotic commercial fruit and emanating vanilla.
Yet, this king of California white wine has so much more to offer: the elegance and abundance of lush ripe fruit and intense character it is infamous for.
The Chardonnay grape is one of the most versatile varietals in the wine world. It can be grown almost anywhere and manipulated in a number of ways; from malolactic fermentation which softens the harsh malic acids into creamy, buttery richness, to stainless steel and oak barrel aging.
Have I confused you yet?
Just think of drinking white grape juice. Now imagine adding some vanilla, caramel and coconut to it, throw in a teabag of wood chips; that would be the equivalent to barrel fermenting. Voilą! You've got an oaky Chardonnay!
But why tamper with what nature has blessed us with? There is a handful of great winemakers who believe in letting the land speak for itself and these are the men and women who are showing us what great Chardonnay is all about.
I had the opportunity to meet one of these winemakers a couple weeks ago; Dan Goldfield of Dutton-Goldfield. Although it is a new winery the Dutton name is not new to the wine world. You may have seen the name Dutton Ranch on bottles of Kistler, Patz & Hall and Lewis Cellars to name a few.
When you see the Dutton Ranch vineyard designate on a wine label, you are assured that the wine you are about to enjoy will possess the elegance and finesse that this top quality vineyard is capable of.
The Dutton family has been farming grapes in the Russian River Valley for 40 years. The largest appellation in Sonoma County, this distinct growing region is famed for its fresh coastal climate and it's well-drained and well-balanced variety of soils. A family of pioneers whose commitment for excellence drove them to plant vines in the coolest areas of the appellation. They knew what was needed to produce top quality Chardonnay grapes and were also among the first to have success with Pinot Noir.
Dan Goldfield, a graduate of UC-Davis and former winemaker at La Crema, joined forces with Steve Dutton and started the winery in 1998. They had been working together as both winemakers and grape growers since 1990. They farm their grapes from the 1100 acres on the Dutton Ranch, which actually consists of 80 different properties. Their concept is to represent the finest wines that best exemplify what the Russian River and Green Valley terroir is capable of.
Dan calls the stretch of land they farm the "tenderloin" of the Green Valley. He is producing wines that are classic in style and reflect the personality of each of the different blocks of land he works with on this "winemakers dream vineyard". His excitement and passion shine through in his wines.