We named this one after my mom (Marie Barber) because she kept asking me to make a chardonnay (her favorite). We finally agreed, but only on the condition that we could make it our way. After searching a while, we found the perfect vineyard to make the style of chardonnay we wanted: a bright, elegant, mineral driven Burgundian chardonnay from California.
The 20 year old Black Knight vineyard is farmed by Mitch Black and family, and is located at the northern edge of the Petaluma Gap AVA at the base of Taylor mountain. The soils are all compacted volcanic ash from two ancient volcanoes, and the elevated site is always cold even during the hottest days of the year. Chardonnay is typically an early ripener and the first grape being harvested during the Sonoma County picking season, but these vines are so stressed and cold this is the last vineyard we harvest (even after all the reds!) We are not fans of oak influence on our white wines, so we fermented and aged this wine in stainless steel to keep it cold and controlled. We periodically stirred the lees during aging, and put the wine through full malolactic fermentation.
Malolactic fermentation is a wine process that converts Malic acid to Lactic acid in wine. Most red wines go through the process in barrel. Many California chardonnays go through this process, which gives them that ‘buttery’ texture. The super buttery chardonnays (not our preference) are California chardonnays that didn’t start with much acidity to begin with and have been forced through malolactic fermentation. However, the Black Knight vineyard gives fully ripe grapes with abundant acidity – more acidity than most California vineyard sites are even capable of. This is a truly Burgundian vineyard site, and there is so much acidity that malolactic fermentation is required to make it palatable. This is the style of chardonnay we wanted to make: California Chablis – mineral driven, bright and elegant, but with body and a rich texture from the ML fermentation process. Plenty of acidity rounds out a layered wine of pear, citrus, and almond flavors. This is definitive chardonnay from winemakers who did not want to make a typical, flabby California chardonnay.