At the Source of a Rare Carneros Chardonnay
On Wednesday of last week prior to Auction Napa Valley, after two double-espressos, I bolted for an 8:00 a.m. meeting with Julien Fayard—the brilliant winemaker behind Azur, and whose CV includes stints at Lafite Rothschild, Smith Haut Lafitte, Quintessa, and work alongside Philippe Melka. At 8:03 a.m. I parked my car atop the Dolly Hill Vineyard on the Truchard property in Carneros, and stepped out into an extremely cool site: The air was rich with misty Pacific Ocean breezes from San Pablo Bay, which was still shrouded in fog. Fayard and I walked the south-facing vines, and he explained that by midday, the sun is hot and penetrating. The result of these diurnal shifts, coupled with the hill’s steep slopes, produced what I think is a stunner in 2013 — for me, Fayard’s Nicholson Jones Dolly Hill Chardonnay from Parker’s “vintage of a lifetime” has the luscious texture of Napa Carneros Chardonnay, balanced by the freshness I love in a terrific Fumé Blanc. “The French say ‘aerien,’” Fayard told me, which translates to “elevated and pure.” That’s this wine in a nutshell. There are only two places to acquire it: from the winery mailing list, or here on Wine Access at just $30 per bottle.
Standing at the top of Dolly Hill, Fayard pointed south to where the Bay would be, but at 8:15 a.m. it was still shrouded in misty Pacific Ocean fog. “The ocean breeze brings a real saline factor,” and the local shrub grass, which had been tilled into the soils made for an incredible aromatic experience — the same experience of Fayard’s Nicholson Jones Chardonnay in the glass, bursting with Fumé Blanc-like minerality, and saline pops courtesy of the Pacific with a distinct undercurrent of wild, fresh herbs.
“I picked at about 23 Brix, but what I’m looking for is deep golden color on the berries, which reflects the accumulation of sun on the skin and gives you a sense of ripeness, and that’s a good indicator of sweetness,” Fayard said. “If the berries are inching into a golden-grey, they’ve hung on the vine too long. These vines are 20-30 years old, mostly with Wente and Wente-clone variations, planted on 3309 rootstock, and I’ve really gotten to know their sweet spot.”
By 8:30 a.m. I was thinking about the Robert Parker quote in which he raved that a Julien Fayard wine he’d tasted, “just has it all. It is really a wine to diagram and analyze over and over to see what true perfection really is.” Standing up against the old-vine trunks at Dolly Hill, listening to Fayard explain how the tiny berries from these vines churn out the very rich, mineral-driven, complex Chardonnay we were also swirling in two Riedel Burgundy glasses, brought along for the occasion — all made sense.
The result of his meticulous skill is a beautiful Grand Cru Chablis-inspired Chardonnay made with native yeast, and fermented and aged in stainless steel — without oak or malolactic conversion. In the blockbuster vintage of 2013, the grapes ripened perfectly in Truchard’s relatively warm spot in Carneros, and are bursting with vibrant acidity.
Julien Fayard’s resume is heavy with accolades for his mouthwatering 98-100-point red wines off Beckstoffer To Kalon (the final results are not in yet, but he’s one point away from perfection), and all his expert touch — and restraint — is on full display in this exquisite Old World-inspired white.
Editor-in-Chief, Wine Access