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Do you know Rosé?

Winemaking

Think you know Rosé wines? Our fascinating infographic will transform you into a true connoisseur of this celebrated varietal.

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Sonoma-Cutrer Harvest

Winemaking

Harvest is always a crucial step in the winemaking process and we all anxiously wait for exactly the right moment when the decision is made to begin. Generally speaking, our harvest here on the Sonoma Coast occurs in late August to early October When the time comes, we will be out in each individual block of our six vineyards analyzing and tasting the fruit. We closely monitor the brix and pH levels of the grapes and taste to ensure the flavor will be just right. As soon as we have identified that a vineyard block has reached its peak of ripeness, we send word to our harvest crew that it is time to begin picking.

Because cooler temperatures help our grapes to retain the highest concentration of flavor, harvest starts in the middle of the night and continues through the early morning hours. Most of Sonoma-Cutrer’s grapes are handpicked and placed in special bins created just for us. They are unusually shallow ensuring that the clusters are not crushed under their own weight and are delivered to the winery in pristine condition.

Once the fruit is brought to the winery, we chill it further in our cooling tunnels. These tunnels are the only ones of their kind and are essentially a blast chiller that has the ability to bring the temperature of the grapes down to 50˚in 45 minutes. Having our fruit cool helps it retain its flavor, avoid harsh extractiveness and reduces the potential for oxidation during processing.

Still touched only once, the cool fruit travels to the sorting tables where the clusters are hand – not machine – sorted. This is a highly, labor-intensive step in the process but it ensures that only the grapes of the highest quality make it to the press. Once the grapes fill the press, it slowly and gently crushes them helping us avoid extracting bitter tannins. The cool, golden-free run juice from the press is sent to tanks where it is allowed to settle for 24 hours. After racking, yeast is then added to the tanks before the juice is sent to French oak barrels to complete the fermentation and maturation of the wine.

Harvest is one of the hardest, most exhausting parts of our entire year, but it also one of the most exciting and rewarding.

Cheers, Mick

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Why Chardonnay?

Winemaking

For over thirty years, Sonoma-Cutrer has been dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in our wines, specifically Chardonnays. Behind this almost singular focus is a story about serendipity, place and the pursuit of perfection.

In the early 1970s, after sampling a particularly memorable Bordeaux at an auction in Paris, Sonoma-Cutrer’s founder returned to America with a mission: to produce a wine that was Old World in its quality and elegance, yet thoroughly California in its expression. This pursuit ultimately would help usher in an era of world-class California Chardonnays. First, however, he had to find the right setting.

At the time, vineyard property was expensive in Sonoma Valley, where Cabernet grapes reigned supreme. Planted on the only piece of affordable property he could find (part of which was rock quarry), the first year’s Cabernet vines failed spectacularly, falling prey to the foggy, cool microclimate. Though disastrous for Cabernet, the climate, the founder would soon discover, was a perfect match for Chardonnay, making Sonoma-Cutrer one of the earliest producers of Chardonnay fruit in the Russian River Valley.

An admirer of the rigorous craftsmanship that defined Old World methods of winemaking and realizing that grape growing was a much more complicated undertaking than he had initially imagined, the founder decided focus only on a single varietal until he reached what he considered to be perfection. What began as a strategic decision to focus on Chardonnay gradually consolidated into an unwavering commitment to and ongoing love affair with the often underestimated varietal.

Known as the ubiquitous grape because it’s relatively easy to grow (it’s the #1 most produced grape in the world), California Chardonnay, though vastly produced, has not historically been a particularly diverse wine, with most flavor profiles fulfilling the ‘bold, buttery, oaky’ stereotype. From our earliest days, however, Sonoma-Cutrer’s Old World winemaking techniques and our Grand Cru philosophy to winemaking- combined with the microclimates of our vineyards have enabled us to present a different view of Chardonnay to the world, revealing the world’s most commonplace grape to be capable of surprising range and nuance.

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The Russian River Valley

Winemaking

Sonoma County is comprised of luxury resorts, fine restaurants, major highways, small towns, pastures, country inns, back roads, as well as, the ubiquitous idyllic vineyards. All of this is just over the Golden Gate Bridge, a short 45 miles from San Francisco. The number one grape varietal that you will find planted in Sonoma County is Chardonnay.

Within Sonoma County is the Russian River Valley. What in the world can Russians have to do with California wine country you ask? Well, the Russians were the first non-natives to settle in Sonoma County at Fort Ross from 1812 to 1841. They are credited for the first vineyard plantings in Sonoma County, but the type of grapes they planted is not known. Official status of the Russian River Valley as an American Viticulture Area came in 1983.

The Russian River Valley has approximately 15,000 acres of vines planted within its 169,000 acres of land. There are over 200 grape growers and 70 wineries in this AVA fraction of Sonoma County. In general, it is considered to be one of the finest areas in California to grow grapes.

Among wine aficionados, the Russian River Valley is one of the pinnacle for Pinot Noirs. The area is known for making rich and flavorful, world-class Pinot Noir. While Pinot Noir may garner the most attention, the number one planted grape, by over a thousand acres, is still Chardonnay. All other grape varieties in the Russian River Valley are significantly smaller in the number of planted acres. So, at the end of the day, one could say the Russian River Valley is all about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Why does the Russian River Valley grow great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? One of the many reasons is the fog. Every day the fog is drawn in from the Pacific Ocean and can decrease the air temperature by as much as 40 degrees. This creates a cooler growing temperature that high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes require and gives the wines a touch more natural acidity for balance and complexity. Try Sonoma-Cutrer’s single vineyard Chardonnay, The Cutrer, and their Russian River Valley Pinot Noir for two wines that exemplify the exceptional quality of fruit grown in the Russian River Valley.

About the Author

A Certified Wine Educator, Scott is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier.

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Bottling a Century of Winemaking Expertise

Winemaking

Since Sonoma-Cutrer’s establishment in 1981, only three select individuals have held the revered role of Sonoma-Cutrer’s Director of Winemaking: William Bonetti, Terry Adams and Michael “Mick” Schroeter. Sonoma-Cutrer’s winemakers must have the unique talent of balancing the art of winemaking with the science behind the crafting of our highly-acclaimed wines. Each of our winemakers are innovators in the field, pioneers who have not only established and sustained the uncompromising standards at Sonoma-Cutrer, but also influenced the wine industry at large.

This year’s limited-production Winemaker’s Release held special meaning when we realized our unique opportunity to invite all three of these masters to collaborate on an exclusive offering.

This year, Bonetti, Adams and Schroeter, have come together to craft the second in our Winemaker’s Release series aptly named Legacy. Every year, a handful of the very best barrels are set aside to create Sonoma-Cutrer’s Founders Reserve Chardonnay, our most distinctive Chardonnay. These three winemakers performed the honor of selecting the barrels to produce our most exclusive and historic vintage of this wine that has ever been crafted – Legacy. Founders Reserve Legacy is only the second wine to be produced in our Winemaker’s Release series.

When the winemakers came together for their blending session, the mutual respect shared among them was palpable. As they progressed through selecting the wine, the winemakers tasted and weighed in, discussed adjustments and fine-tuned the blend. Just a few rounds later and all three winemakers set down their glasses and exchanged a knowing glance. Without a word, they knew they had reached a unanimous consensus – this is the one.

We shouldn’t have been surprised by how seamless the collaboration was. After all, these craftsmen set the standards for Sonoma-Cutrer wines and defined the characteristics found in each of our Chardonnays.

Founders Reserve Legacy is the culmination of nearly a century of collective winemaking expertise. Each bottle is infused with a shared devotion to the craft and enduring passion for Sonoma-Cutrer.

Order a bottle of this limited-edition Winemaker’s Release today to own an exclusive piece of Sonoma-Cutrer’s history.

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Trends in Chardonnay

Winemaking

California Chardonnay has traveled a storied journey through the decades, from The Judgment of Paris wine tasting in 1976, when a California Chardonnay beat out four French white Burgundies, to the heavy oak and butter-laden styles of the nineties that led to the unfair backlash dubbed ABC (Anything But Chardonnay).

Throughout all of the fads, from butter bombs and big oak styles to crisp, fruit-forward unoaked varieties, Sonoma-Cutrer has stayed the course. Our unwavering vision has always been the same: produce the best Chardonnay possible by combining Old World craftsmanship with New World innovation.

From the beginning, our terroir-driven Grand Cru approach has married traditional Burgundian winemaking methods with state-of-the-art technologies to produce elegantly structured Chardonnays that are deeply rooted in a sense of place.

So what does that mean, exactly?

For one, it means that barrels used at Sonoma-Cutrer are made of fine French oak that we handpick from forests in the heart of France and then have crafted into barrels at generations-old family-owned cooperages in Burgundy.

It also means that innovation has always been part of the equation. Take, for example, our cellar. Rather than digging into a hillside, we removed an entire hill in order to create the perfect cave-like conditions for aging, then reconstructed the hill around our 20,000-square-foot cellar.

This meticulous approach infuses our wines with subtleties and nuance not always found in Chardonnay. In Sonoma-Cutrer’s early days, when many popular California Chardonnays were anything but complex, this refined style was rather revolutionary.

Today, Chardonnay is finding its way back into the spotlight once again as more winemakers embrace food-friendly styles that balance fruit and oak, much like our own Chardonnays. And whether it’s a trend or more of a movement (though it certainly feels like the latter), the current emphasis on more elegant Chardonnay is one we embrace.

No matter what the future holds for the world’s most popular grape, we’ll be right here making our Chardonnay the way we always have – in our own uniquely Grand Cru style.

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Head Winemaker Biographies

Winemaking

It took the vision and expertise of our former and present head winemakers to make Legacy the truly unique, limited availability cuvée it is.

WILLIAM BONETTI, SONOMA-CUTRER 1981-1991

William Bonetti has dedicated over forty years to winemaking and his distinguished career covers much ground. Raised in northern Italy and educated at the venerable Conegliano School of Viticulture, Mr. Bonetti brought a traditional and formal winemaking background to America with him at the age of eighteen. In California’s Central Valley, Mr. Bonetti worked as a chemist with E. & J. Gallo and Cresta Blanca. Working as a winemaker at Charles Krug with Robert and Peter Mondavi, Mr. Bonetti developed methods to press grapes while cold, to transfer wine with inert gas, and to barrel ferment Chardonnay — the first such undertaking in America. From Krug, he was hired to design and operate the new Chateau Souverain facility, where he helped pioneer the production of fine wines in Sonoma County. Mr. Bonetti’s crowning achievement was the design and operation of the Sonoma-Cutrer winery. At Sonoma-Cutrer, beginning in 1981, he brought to bear his wealth of knowledge and experience to produce Chardonnay from five estate vineyards under three distinct labels. For ten years, he used grape chilling, sorting, whole cluster pressing, barrel fermentation and various oxygen reduction techniques to make Chardonnay wine exclusively.

TERRY ADAMS, SONOMA-CUTRER 1991 – 2010

Terry Adams became Director of Winemaking with the harvest of 1991. Prior to his appointment as Director, Terry had worked as Assistant Winemaker and Cellarmaster to William Bonetti at Sonoma-Cutrer since the inception of the winery in 1981. Before coming to Sonoma-Cutrer, Terry apprenticed under the direction of Mr. Bonetti at Chateau Souverain. From 1981 to 1991, Terry helped produce every bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay. During the same interval, he had a hand in the development of much of the “state of the art” equipment and processes at the winery. Terry was intricately involved in all of the Sonoma-Cutrer’s pioneering work with malo-lactic cultures, spontaneous fermentations, barrel toasting, bottling techniques and vineyard development. He also played a pivotal role in implementing Sonoma-Cutrer’s Grand Cru Program, overseeing essential projects from the crafting of the barrels in France from oak trees to bottling the first vintage of The Cutrer without fining or filtration. Terry’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to plant the first vines of Pinot Noir in the Cutrer Vineyard. Terry utilized his Grand Cru approach to winemaking to create a style of Pinot Noir that was the perfect second varietal offering to Sonoma-Cutrer’s portfolio. Over the years, Terry honed his own style and philosophy to winemaking. His goal was to always “make wines that exemplify the character of the vineyards, that are fresh and lively, yet at the same time focused, balanced and structured.”

MICHAEL “MICK” SCHROETER, SONOMA-CUTRER 2010 – PRESENT

Michael “Mick” Schroeter’s decorated and storied wine background made him superbly qualified to serve as only the third head winemaker in the history of Sonoma-Cutrer. Winemaking is often a trade passed down from generation to generation, and Mick Schroeter is no exception. Starting out on his own as an oenologist at Kaiser Stuhl winery in Australia, Mick wanted to blaze his own trail and had no intentions of following in his father and uncle’s footsteps at the Penfolds Winery. Then in 1982, as fate would have it, Penfolds bought Kaiser Stuhl and reunited Mick with the family in the business. Mick rose rapidly through the Penfolds system and had the privilege to be part of their red winemaking team, eventually working on Penfolds’ legendary Grange Hermitage, the benchmark of Aussie Shiraz. From there, Mick accepted an invitation from Geyser Peak Winery in California to take over as Vice President of Winemaking where he stayed for 17 years. It is his long track record of success and illustrious career in Australia and California, along with twice being named “Winemaker of the Year” at the London International Wine & Spirit Competition, that gave Mick the encompassing experience to take the reins at Sonoma-Cutrer. He considers it one of the industry’s true dream jobs and is honored to carry on the brand’s storied legacy.

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Our Closure Choice

Winemaking

For over thirty years, Sonoma-Cutrer has been dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in our wines, specifically Chardonnays. Behind this almost singular focus is a story about serendipity, place and the pursuit of perfection. By design, a large part of the Sonoma-Cutrer story and rich history has relied on the talents of our winemaking team.

It is a fairly amazing and little known fact that since our inception the winery has only had three Directors of Winemaking. Each of these individuals has had their own indelible influence on the wine, the process and the continuation of Sonoma-Cutrer’s heritage. Each has strived to improve upon the efforts of their predecessor, while never deviating from the original winemaking philosophy or the signature Sonoma-Cutrer style.

The Sonoma-Cutrer vision has always kept the winemaking team at the forefront pursuing excellence through technology and innovation. After years of being dissatisfied with cork “tainted” wines, Terry Adams, Director of Winemaking (1991-2010), made the unprecedented decision to seal our most distinctive Chardonnay, the limited 1999 Founders Reserve Chardonnay, with a screw cap closure. As this wine is designed for prolonged cellaring, Founders Reserve has to show potential for in-bottle development. Terry’s extensive research on the subject of closures led him to the conclusion that screw cap technology was the best option available for fine wine because it guaranteed an air-tight closure for up to 20 years without the risk of cork taint.

Today, Sonoma-Cutrer continues to bottle its most premium expressions utilizing screw cap closures, including our most selective release to date – the 2012 Winemaker’s Release Legacy. Our closure choice ensures that this elegant wine will continue to bottle-age for years to come allowing the wine to reach new heights of perfection.

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A Toast to Terroir

Winemaking

It’s no secret that at Sonoma-Cutrer, a favored topic is terroir, or how a vineyard’s specific geology, geography and climate affect the flavors that end up in your glass. While you’re probably not thinking about the fog rolling in off the Pacific, or the California sun warming up the rocky soil when you savor that first sip, the truth is, terroir is directly responsible for the complexities that make our wines distinct.

So how does terroir translate to taste? It’s a good question that could involve a lengthy conversation! But we will spare you. Instead, let’s start by lifting a glass to the celebrity here in our part of the world: the fog.

At Owsley Ranch, our closest vineyard to the Pacific, ocean breezes blow cool fog off the water and into the narrow Bloomfield Gap, where it’s concentrated between steep hillsides before blanketing over the valley to make it up to 10 degrees cooler than other areas in the region.

This results in fewer, smaller grapes, which means intense concentrated flavor. So, when you take that first sip of Owsley Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir, the deep earthy flavors and dark fruit complexities that you taste are directly indebted to those thick blankets of fog.

Grapes grown at Les Pierres vineyard are more influenced by the soil, which is made up of 50-70% rock (hence the name, which translates to “The Stones”). This inhospitable rocky soil makes the vines work extra hard to grow and gives low yields of smaller grape clusters with incredibly rich flavor.

The rocks in the soil at Les Pierres also absorb sunlight, slowly releasing the heat to offset the cool fog and lengthen the growing season. The resulting fruit is infused with a stony minerality that makes Les Pierres Chardonnay utterly distinct, a true reflection of the vineyard’s terroir.

The next time you’re sipping your favorite Sonoma-Cutrer wine, raise a glass to the dense fog, ancient riverbeds and distinguishing soils of Sonoma-Cutrer. After all, they are responsible for the depth and complexity of the wine you are enjoying. Cheers!

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Wine Tasting 101

Winemaking

This wine tasting primer is designed to give you a comprehensive understanding of the components of tasting wine. To make it easier, feel free to taste along if you wish. All you need is a quality wine glass of eight or more ounces and a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer 2015 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

There are 3 points of emphasis in any wine tasting- Sight, Smell and Taste.

Sight– Usually a full color will suggest a full wine and a light color will suggest a light wine. Our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is yellow-gold, clear and bright.

Smell– I use the acronym FEW to help remember this part of the tasting. F stands for fruit and floral, E for earth and W for wood or oak.

Fruit can cover the entire world of fruits, but think about fruits that are in the range of the color of wine. For example, white wine may have flavors of citrus and apples; red wine may have flavors of red cherries and black berries.

Earth can encompass everything from the smell of fresh tilled soil to minerals. Like many other flavors in wine, it is not always present.

Wood or oak is used to age a good deal of wine, but not all. It can give a wine the smell of spices like, cinnamon, vanilla, allspice and more. To better smell your wine, try swirling it in your glass to release the aromas and make it easier to describe its flavors.

Our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay smells of apple, pear and lemon zest with the oak enhanced flavors of toasted nuts, baking spices and a hint of vanilla.

Taste – Our taste buds are equipped to sense four basic flavors: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salt.

Sweet is the presence of sugar in wine. Dry is the absence of sugar in wine. Medium-dry falls in somewhere between the two. You usually detect sweetness on the tip of your tongue. To better understand dryness in wine, try this simple demonstration: Place three glasses of water in front of you. Into the first glass of water, pour an entire packet of sugar – this equals sweet. Put a half packet of sugar into the second glass – this is medium-dry. No sugar will be put into the third glass of water which equals dry.

Sour refers to the acidity in wine, and while it carries a negative connotation, it really refers to the zippy-crisp component in wine. It typically can be sensed on the sides of your tongue. Let’s take our three glasses of water again. Into the first glass of water, squeeze an entire lemon this would be very crisp. In the second glass of water, squeeze half of a lemon this represents crisp. Put only a few drops of lemon juice into the third glass this is our low acid or not very crisp.

Bitter refers to the tannins in wine. Like sour, it carries a negative connotation. But, it actually refers to the mouth-puckering quality of wine. It may be sensed all over your palate. A heavily tannic wine can make any part of your mouth contract and dry out. A wine can be described as light, medium or heavy in tannin. Tannin can be sensed in grape skins, long steeped tea and espresso. Tannin is typically found in red wine because of the extended skin contact with the unfermented and fermenting wine during red wine production. So, we won’t really find any in our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

When you taste wine, allow the wine to stay on your palate for a minute, letting all parts of your palate touch the wine. This will allow you to more accurately use the various areas where you sense the taste of the wine. Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is dry and crisp.

Also, through your palate, you can establish the body or weight of a wine. The body of a wine is described as light, medium or full bodied; like a glass of water, milk or heavy cream respectively, Sonoma Coast is a medium to full-bodied Chardonnay.

Your olfactory system senses smell in your palate, as well as, through your nose. This helps you to connect the wine’s smell and taste. The aftertaste is the lingering flavor you get after swallowing the wine; an aftertaste is only bad when it tastes bad! A good aftertaste is pleasant and persistent. Our Chardonnay has a very pleasant aftertaste.

Overall, we would characterize the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay as yellow-gold with a nose and palate of apple, pear and lemon zest with the oak enhanced flavors of toasted nuts, baking spices and a hint of vanilla. It is dry, crisp, and medium to full-bodied with a very pleasant aftertaste. And don’t forget the easy descriptors like this deliciously, tasty Chardonnay is superb.

 

About the Author

A Certified Wine Educator, Scott is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier.

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Focus on Chardonnay

Winemaking

Chardonnay is Chardonnay is Chardonnay.

Or is it? Not really. You might be surprised how different Chardonnays can really be. Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grape varietals in the world and the #1 selling wine varietal in the United States (1). The Chardonnay grape is less pungent than many other white varietals which lends itself to have a wonderful affinity to oak and the complexity derived from the barrel and the winemaker.

Often, you will hear the terms “Old World” and “New World” used when describing wine. It certainly comes up in discussions about Chardonnay since this resilient varietal is grown in many grape growing regions around the world. While some might find those terms confusing, the definition of them is actually quite simple. An ‘Old World’ wine refers to wines that are grown in the classic grape growing regions of Europe (France, Italy, Spain Germany, etc) or, basically, any country that was around during the Roman Empire. By contrast, “New World” wines are the ones that are grown everywhere else. Old World vs. New World terminology is used because it helps depict the style in which the wine was crafted. While Old World wines are generally made under tight regulations & using traditional techniques that are passed down over generations, New World wines have pushed the boundaries of what can be accomplished using technology and viticulture to expand upon the traditional methods.

The Chardonnay grape is so malleable that it can be vinified in many different styles offering a wide variety in the flavor profile of the wine. Old World wines will tend to be more lean and subtle with minerality. New World wines offer a wide variety of flavors including Oak and a vast array of upfront fruit characters.

Chardonnay is a wine that offers the wine lover a wide and varied palette of flavors to enjoy. Taste testing different styles of the wine will help you find the type of Chardonnay that best fits your personal taste preferences. Try it for yourself. You may discover a whole new world in Chardonnay.

Cheers! Mick

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The Philosophy of Terroir

Winemaking

Terroir is something that we spend a lot of time talking about at Sonoma-Cutrer. At the heart of Burgundian winemaking methodology, the philosophy of terroir can be loosely defined as a “sense of place”. This sense of place – the soil, the climate, viticulture practices and the topography- is what you taste whenever a bottle of wine is opened, poured and enjoyed.

The six Estate vineyards of Sonoma-Cutrer- The Cutrer, Shiloh, Kent, Vine Hill, Les Pierres and Owsley- each display their own unique terroir that leads to the individual characteristics of the grapes that are grown and expressed in the wines that are produced. The two extreme examples of terroir differences in our vineyards can be found when comparing Vine Hill to Les Pierres. Vine Hill is our largest vineyard made up of gentle, rolling hills that face southwest. The soil here is an ancient seabed of deep, sandy loam known as Goldridge Series. Vine Hill has moderate temperature fluctuations that make it perfect for growing both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This allows the grapes to have longer growing season with extended hang time. Vine Hill grapes are used in crafting our Russian River Ranches, Sonoma Coast and Pinot Noir blends.

By contrast, Les Pierres sits atop an ancient riverbed of gravelly clay loam where the red volcanic soil is made up of 50-70% rock content. If you have ever visited our winery, you would have noticed our many stone walls around the building. All of these walls were built using Les Pierres rocks. The vineyard itself is east facing and receives warmer temperatures during the day followed by cool, breezy nights. The daytime warming of the stone and rock provides an extended ripening time each day resulting in Les Pierres being the first fruit to be harvested. We routinely thin the clusters so the grapes achieve the deep, complex flavor found in our Les Pierres wine.

Every block of grapes in each of our vineyards are microclimates that express their own unique sense of place. As winemakers, our job is to blend those blocks together and craft the wines of Sonoma-Cutrer that have become the very definition of our terroir.

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Celebrate America with California Chardonnay

Winemaking

The Fourth of July is a time to fire up the grill, light some sparklers, and toast this amazing country. And what better time to celebrate America’s most popular wine varietal? Our country’s story of grit and determination is not unlike the history of Chardonnay’s rise in the United States.

While Chardonnay cuttings were first imported from France more than a century ago, it took many more decades for the wine to catch on in the United States. Wente Vineyards’ 1936 vintage was the country’s first varietally labeled Chardonnay, and in 1960 the “Michelin Guide” declared Wente Chardonnay equal to the finest white wines of France.

Yet most Americans still reached for what they knew—French wines labeled “Chablis.” It wasn’t until the legendary Judgment of Paris in 1976 that Chardonnay came into its own in this country.

When Chateau Montelena’s California Chardonnay was declared the winner in a blind tasting featuring the best from both France and California, a boom in Chardonnay production followed. California’s meager 100 acres of Chardonnay grapes in 1940 soon swelled to today’s 100,000 acres.

This overnight popularity did not come without some growing pains, however. Over-eager producers loaded up on new French oak barrels, and it wasn’t long before there was a backlash against heavily oaked California Chardonnays. This led to the more recent trend of producing “unoaked” Chardonnays on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Fortunately, Sonoma-Cutrer is not one to follow trends. In the winery’s own 30-year history, the goal has always remained the same: Combine Old World Burgundian winemaking methods with New World technologies to produce elegant Chardonnays that are deeply rooted in a sense of place.

This place: America … California … and a pretty little corner of the Russian River Valley.

This Independence Day, toast the resourcefulness, initiative and ingenuity of America with a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer’s flagship wine, Russian River Ranches—the most popular Chardonnay in the country’s finest restaurants.

While you’re at it, lift a glass to all of the winemakers who have brought this same American spirit to that glorious glass of Chardonnay in your hand.

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Introducing: Sauvignon Blanc

Winemaking

Introducing: Sauvignon Blanc

We all know that Sonoma-Cutrer is famous for its Chardonnay, but … Sauvignon Blanc? How did Chardonnay’s little sister find its way into the winery’s award winning portfolio? The answer lies in Sonoma-Cutrer’s innovative Winemaker’s Release series.

This limited-release, small production series gives the winemakers a unique opportunity to experiment, be it with process or, in this case, a new varietal. The third wine to be introduced in the Winemaker’s Release series, Sonoma-Cutrer’s classic California Sauvignon Blanc is distinctly Russian River Valley.

Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter is no stranger to Sauvignon Blanc. With years of experience at a winery that specialized in the varietal under his belt, Mick recognized that the Russian River Valley’s cool climate would provide excellent conditions for producing Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Fruit was selected from four distinct vineyards chosen for their terroir.

Shone Farm’s volcanic soils lend the wine citrus flavors and minerality, while Mirabelle Vineyard contributes lime and lychee characters and a tightly framed palate. From Wood Vineyard come guava, tropical notes and a creamy palate. Finally, fruit from the cool, foggy Bevill Family Vineyard enhances the wine with the distinct flavors and aromas of passion fruit while providing the blend with an elegant balance.

The goal was to bring together the unique characteristics of each of the four vineyards in a complementary way. The result? A bright and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc that took home a gold medal at the first competition it entered: The Critics Challenge International.

Featuring exotic tropical flavors and a bright, crisp acidity, the elegant wine is well suited as an aperitif before dinner or, better yet, with a plate of freshly shucked oysters. It also makes an excellent pairing for summer salads made with fruits and vegetables featuring a bit of acidity, such as tomatoes or mandarins.

Will Sonoma-Cutrer’s first foray into Sauvignon Blanc be its last? While there are no plans to produce another Sauvignon Blanc, only time will tell. For now, don’t miss the opportunity to uncork a bottle of this unique offering that’s perfectly suited for summertime.

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Behind the Scenes at Harvest

Winemaking

It’s crunch time at Sonoma-Cutrer, and a buzz of anticipation is in the air as another harvest is well under way. Excitement and adrenaline take the place of sleep during this magical time as crews work around the clock to ensure grapes are picked at their peak.

Harvest kicked off this year with a pair of Sonoma-Cutrer family traditions. The season was christened with an ice cream social followed by a company wide breakfast the first morning eager crews took to the vineyards with their picking knives.

Spring’s dry, mild weather pushed harvest slightly early this year, while the moderate summer that followed blessed the vines with ideal ripening weather thanks to foggy mornings and warm afternoons.

Throughout harvest, grapes are analyzed daily for chemistry and flavor development. “Sugar meetings” are held every afternoon to determine which blocks of Sonoma-Cutrer’s six distinct vineyards will be picked the following day. The goal is to pick every block of grapes when the perfect balance of flavor, texture and sweetness is achieved.

Ensuring the finest possible fruit is a process that begins well before harvest. Vines are monitored and thinned throughout the year so the grapes that remain will bathe in the morning sun while being shielded from the harsh afternoon rays.

The choice clusters left on the vines at harvest time feature small uniform grapes with concentrated flavor. The fruit is harvested gently by hand in the middle of the night, when cooler temperatures ensure the highest possible flavor concentration.

After being sorted by hand and placed in shallow bins (so the grapes aren’t crushed), the fruit makes its way to Sonoma-Cutrer’s proprietary cooling tunnel, which helps preserve optimal acidity and flavor. Once they’re sorted by hand again, only the highest quality grapes are gently pressed and transferred to fine French oak barrels for fermentation.

The ultimate goal of this meticulous process is to produce wines with a sense of place that reflect the unique terroir of the Russian River Valley. With the help of Mother Nature and a tireless crew, this year’s vintage is expected to meet—and likely exceed—Sonoma-Cutrer’s lofty expectations.

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In the Books: 2015 Harvest Recap

Winemaking

Every harvest brings its own challenges and victories, and no two years are ever alike. There’s only one rule that winemakers can count on year after year: Mother Nature calls the shots. And this year was no exception.

Now that the picking knives have been put away and the staff has caught its collective breath, it’s time to take a look back at the 2015 harvest.

The drought in California, now in its fourth year, remained a factor. Fortunately, Sonoma-Cutrer made it through the growing season without any water shortages thanks to a deficit irrigation strategy and meticulous moisture analysis.

Mild, dry weather caused harvest to start a solid week early—the second earliest harvest in the history of Sonoma-Cutrer—and the picking officially commenced at Les Pierres on August 17. The very next day, cool weather returned along with the area’s signature fog, slowing down the pace of harvest and creating ideal ripening conditions for the next two and a half weeks.

The fruit continued to ripen slowly throughout the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast until a hot spell just after Labor Day. Suddenly, all of the fruit seemed to ripen at once leading to a picking frenzy that continued for the next two weeks, during which a staggering two-thirds of the harvest was processed.

Similar to the Chardonnay patterns, Vine Hill’s Pinot grapes came in slow and steady over the course of two and a half weeks while Owsley’s fruit ripened all at once during the week of the warm spell.

And just like that, another harvest was over, with yields just slightly lower than average. So what does this mean for the wine that will end up in your glass? The news is very good.

The long hang time allowed the fruit to develop rich, complex flavors with bright natural acidity. As for the Pinot, Vine Hill’s grapes appear to be representing the classic elegance of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, while Owsley is showing its signature power and depth.

It will be up to two years before the results become official, but all indications point to another stellar vintage at Sonoma-Cutrer.

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Malo what…?

Winemaking

While tasting another delicious bottle of Chardonnay you noticed a flavor, a flavor you haven’t really picked up on before. You aren’t sure how to describe it. It is not quite popcorn, maybe it is cream…then all of a sudden someone says butter. The flavor is butter! This flavor is not present in all wines. Wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Pinot Grigio, just wouldn’t taste right with it, but in Chardonnay it is a flavor nuance made in heaven.

So where does this flavor come from? It is a natural or induced process called malolactic fermentation or secondary fermentation. This is sometime listed on the back of wine bottle labels but, rarely explained. In reality, it is quite simple. The process changes the harder Malic acid, which is an acid found in apples, especially green apples, into the softer rounder lactic acid, which is the acid found in milk. A by-product of this process is Diacetyl. Diacetyl has an intense buttery flavor. -This helps create a wine with a creamy, softer texture.

The key to success in this process is that the buttery flavor does not dominate. Any wine that goes through malolactic fermentation will have a component of this tasty flavor, but the key is that it is in balance with the other flavors like the fruit and oak. Using malolactic fermentation is a brilliant way to enhance the complexity of balanced, flavorful Chardonnay.

The next time you taste your favorite Chardonnay see if you detect the nuance of malolactic fermentation.

About The Author

Scott Harper, MS is a Certified Wine Educator, and is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier

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