The Last of Pax’s 2012 Sonoma Coast Answer to Meursault
Pax Mahle has been called “irrefutably brilliant” by Robert Parker. His one time protégé, Antonio Galloni, has said Mahle is producing “some of the most gorgeous, nuanced wines being made in California today.” We’d go a step further and argue that Mahle’s stylistic about-face positions him as one of the most versatile winemakers in the U.S. In the mid-2000s, Mahle pivoted from making ultra-concentrated, collector-coveted, muscular reds, to fresher, lower-alcohol wines comprised of high-elevation, cool-climate fruit. All the while, the 90+ scores continued to roll in.
But turn the clocks back to the late 1990s, and a career in winemaking wasn’t on Mahle’s radar — his destiny, it had seemed, was to work the restaurant floor.
He’d reasoned that a career in wine would only be worthwhile as a Master Sommelier. So, like many before him, he travelled to France, to work the cellars in Burgundy and the Rhône Valley. However, shortly after chance meetings with Henri Jayer, the visionary of Vosne-Romanée Pinot Noir, and Jacques Reynaud, the godfather of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Mahle had an epiphany. He needed to be the guy making the wine, not the guy with the bowtie and tastevin.
Playing the long game, Mahle arrived in St. Helena in 1997 to take on the role of corporate wine buyer for the upscale Dean & Deluca stores. After a couple years there, Pax had secured funds from a backer to rent space in a warehouse in Santa Rosa. Perhaps more importantly, he was granted carte blanche to make whatever style of wine moved him. With almost no training save for the advice of his cellar neighbors (Carlisle, Copain, and Siduri), he managed to locate outstanding vineyard sites and land lengthy contracts. Under his first label, Pax Wines, Mahle forged his own path making multiple single-vineyard Syrahs. Two years after the first wines rolled off the bottling line, Parker had lobbed six 95+ ratings on Mahle’s “Hermitage-like” Syrahs.
By the mid-2000s, however, Mahle felt he’d gotten off-track. He was thinking about something Jayer had said — about picking for acidity, not ripeness — and recalled the great refinement and precision of Reynaud’s ultra-concentrated reds. Pax reasoned that for his wines to have the staying power, vibrancy, and freshness of the best Burgundy or Rhône Valley wines, it would mean a halt to picking uber-ripe grapes and over-extracting during production. That’s when he pivoted.
Launched in 2006, Wind Gap Wines became Mahle’s answer to the Jayer and Reynaud approach. He began to focus on Burgundian and Rhône Valley varieties in the extreme cool-climate “gaps” of California. The higher elevations of the Petaluma and Templeton Gaps yield smaller grapes with thicker skins that provide the structure and nuanced complexity Mahle had sought. Was Pax’s about-face successful? Taste for yourself. Year after year, his Wind Gap wines are irrefutably delicious, sporting impeccable balance between depth and concentration, between purity of fruit and laser-like acidity.
In 2012, Pax crafted one of the finest Wind Gap Chardonnays to date, drawn off vineyards in the Petaluma Gap, one of the coolest growing areas of Sonoma County. But you won’t find it anywhere, save for on WineAccess today. Here’s why.
As has been well-documented in our missives, Robert Parker’s “watershed” 2012 growing season bathed Sonoma’s Goldridge soils in sunshine. Barely a drop of rain fell over the summer months, but Mahle’s deep-rooted vines shrugged off the drought, delivering a miracle harvest of small-berry clusters. Sugars were high, even as acids remained electrifying. Pax felt his 2012 had achieved new heights, marrying Meursault-like richness and minerality with cool-climate California fruit. However, the acid was so bracing that Mahle felt it best to hold back a sizable portion of the wine. When we found out, we swooped in and negotiated for all 74 cases.
After four years in the bottle, the 2012 Wind Gap Chardonnay is drinking beautifully.
Bright yellow gold. Meyer lemon, white flowers and smoky, flinty aromas jump from the glass. The palate holds layers and layers of white peach, yellow apple and mineral laden citrus fruit flavors. The texture is silky with a fantastically vibrant energy. A textbook example of a mineral CA Chardonnay. Drink now to 2020.
Direct from Wind Gap’s cellars, only $29.99/bottle for the most Meursault-like Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, ready to drink now, all thanks to Pax Mahle’s about-face. Just 74 cases available, available EXCLUSIVELY on WineAccess. Shipping included on 6.