2012 Babcock Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Barbara County
 
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Bryan Babcock 2012 Babcock Chardonnay: Dierberg Vineyard + "Top Cream"

The 2012 growing season, from Santa Barbara to Calistoga draws comparisons to the monumental 2007 vintage. For the first time in five years, growers were treated to a warm, dry spring and summer, absent the crippling drama of flash frosts and violent storms.

As we reported earlier this week, Chuck Wagner, the longtime proprietor at Caymus, called 2012 "a watershed year." At Chappellet, Phil Corallo-Titus much echoed Wagner's refrain. But when the dust finally settles, it may be the top winemakers of the Santa Rita HIlls who crafted the most sensuous, lavishly mineral wines of this magical harvest.

We first met Bryan Babcock in the early 1980s, after tasting an Au Bon Climat Babcock Vineyard Chardonnay that would prove to be one of the more unforgettable whites of its time. Set on light sandy soils outside of Lompoc, we spent two hours with young Babcock, traipsing the vineyard that would so mesmerize the likes of Jim Clendenen, Adam Tolmach and Greg Brewer. The skies were turquoise blue, yet the mercury barely touched 75 degrees. Bryan explained the topography of the hills, how the mountains run east-west instead of north-south, ushering the cool air off the Pacific through the canyon.

The growing season was remarkably long, with harvest often delayed until late October. Yields were tiny. Berries were small and sweet, clusters often strewn with precious millerandages. Babcock Vineyard Chardonnays, braced by electrifying acidity, fended off oxidation effortlessly. After 18 months in French wood, the wines remained terrifically wound up, almost Riesling-like on release, ready to hunker down for the long haul.

In 2012, fully aware of the weather patterns and the stunning Chardonnay crop on the vines, Babcock's gears began to turn. Since the release of the 93-point Dierberg Vineyard Chardonnay, Babcock had become enchanted with Jim Dierberg's meticulously farmed hillside just a few miles east of Lompoc. On a lark, Babcock called Kurt Ammann, the GM of Dierberg, to see what might be available. Not long after, the two cut the deal that would make for this stunning 2012 Babcock Santa Barbara County Chardonnay.

"My Chardonnay is always wound up," Bryan told us at La Super-Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara (if you go, stay clear of the green sauce!). "It needs oxygen, plenty of time in barrel and in bottle. But the Dierberg Chardonnay is sort of the opposite. Out of the gate, it has great weight and plushness. Given how the harvest was shaping up, it seemed like 2012 was made for marrying the two."

Babcock conducted exhaustive blending sessions over two months before bottling. So as to conserve the lush purity of the Dierberg fruit, all but 5% was fermented in stainless steel. The richly sinewed Babcock Chardonnay -- the same as what would be bottled under Babcock's tiny production of "Top Cream" -- was entirely barrel-fermented, half in new French cooperage.

"I went back and forth for weeks. I began with 75% "Top Cream," hoping to stretch out the Dierberg component. But, over time, I shifted back, and leaned towards the fresher, Fuisse-style of the Dierberg." We sipped this brilliant golden 2012 before the tacos set our taste buds on fire. "By the time I was done, I flipped the blend around -- three parts Dierberg, one part Top Cream."

The 2012 Babcock Chardonnay Santa Barbara County is a stunner. Brilliant light gold to the rim with piercing, saline-tinged aromas of honeysuckle, ripe apple and pear, lightly laced with new wood cedar. Rich, broad and mouth filling on the attack, with marvelous high-toned-density and weight. Fine layers of apple, pear and honey slowly peel away after a couple hours in the glass. Drink now-2018.


Tasting Notes

2012 Babcock Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Barbara County
"The 2012 Babcock Chardonnay Santa Barbara County is a stunner. Brilliant light gold to the rim with piercing, saline-tinged aromas of honeysuckle, ripe apple and pear, lightly laced with new wood cedar. Rich, broad and mouth filling on the attack, with marvelous high-toned density and weight. Fine layers of apple, pear and honey slowly peel away after a couple hours in the glass. An exquisite marriage of two of the more talked about Chardonnay vineyards on the Santa Barbara coast, expertly blended by the inimitable Bryan Babcock. Drink now-2018."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

 

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