2008 Baton Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast
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Charles Heintz Vineyard A Stirring Ode to Peter Michael

After 14 years up at Peter Michael, Bill Vyenielo decided to finally set up his own shingle so as to make a few hundred cases of Chardonnay and a few barrels of Pinot Noir. Over his time at Peter Michael, Vyenielo had overseen the work of the most talented set of Chardonnay-makers on the coast -- Helen Turley, Mark Aubert (now pronounced "Oh-BEAR"), Sean Capiaux and Luc Morlet. And while each release bore the indelible signature of its maker, there was always a common thread that included wild honeysuckle fruit, golden straw color (from plenty of stirring of the lees), and the most vibrant finish on the coast. Vyenielo knew where he was headed. He only had to figure out how to get there without losing his shirt.

The greatest of those Peter Michael wines, in Vyenielo's opinion, was drawn from vineyards above the throwback town of Occidental. Set above the thick fog cover that often covers these hills, yet freshened by brisk maritime breezes, the top Chardonnay patches put out small berry golden clusters often not harvested until mid-October. Vyenielo, armed with his Peter Michael resume, took to the hills, trying to squeeze out a small grape contract from a grower who hardly needed another client.

He began where most everyone started. Charles Heintz's 25 acres are as prized as any on the coast, the subject of an annual Chardonnay land grab featuring wineries like Williams-Selyem, Flowers, DuMol, and Littorai. Vyenielo knew the vineyard too well, making it doubly tough to prepare him for the disappointment that was sure to follow.

In the meantime, Bill took another flier, lobbing a call into young Jeff Pisoni, the uber-talented young winemaker at his family's Pisoni Vineyards. Sure, there was little chance Jeff would take on a side project, but then again, he had been given no chance in years past of landing Turley, Aubert or Morlet. Another disappointment? Probably. But you don't know if you don't ask.

By now, you know where this is headed. Neither Heintz nor Pisoni needed Bill Vyenielo. But neither of them was up to the task of saying 'no' to a guy who can be awfully persuasive when he needs to be. It took a few months, but in 2006, when Bill brought in his first harvest to "Baton," those tiny, green-gold Chardonnay berries were from Charles Heintz, and the young guy at the sorting table was 26 year old Jeff Pisoni.

The 2008 Baton "Charles Heintz Vineyard" Chardonnay -- all 12 barrels of it -- is a magnificent effort. It takes all of 15 seconds to see just how closely this straw gold, honey rich, oyster shell infused gem from that long, drawn out, cool summer, speaks eloquently of Vyenielo's Peter Michael past. The Heintz vineyard signature is all over this one -- so deep and profound, wound-up and energetic -- with Pisoni's brilliant hands nursing out all the honey/lemon richness without sacrificing a bit of coastal nerve.

Vyenielo got it all right, except the part about his shirt. But you can't spend 14 years building Peter Michael without coming to understand the bumps in the road on the way to the top.

Tasting Notes

2008 Baton Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast
"Straw gold in color. Gorgeous aromas of honey, citrus, white flowers, a lacing of classical cool climate oyster shell. Rich and richly textured on the attack, full of ripe citrus, with remarkable energy and persistence given all the opulence. Drink now or age for a half dozen years."
-- WineAccess Travel Log