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03.29.2005

2001 Chateau Potelle Estate "VGS" Chardonnay, Mt. Veeder, Napa

In the espionage business, spies "cross over" or are "turned" to become double agents, working for the people they once used to spy one. When Marketta and Jean-Noël Fourmeaux first came to California, they were on an official mission from the Appellations of Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone to learn as much as possible about California wine, winemaking and winegrowing for their French employers. After 6 months, they are reported to have sent back a telegram saying "Looks good. We'll stay." And thus began Chateau Potelle.

The Fourmeaux bought a piece of property high on Mount Veeder in 1988 and immediately set to work to build a vineyard and winery on the steep elevated hillsides that were the dominant and desirable traits of their property. Influenced by the hillside vineyards of the Northern Rhone, buying land anywhere "flat" apparently was out of the question.

"We gave ourselves 5 years to find the ideal location to make wine. All the while we were searching, we had a very particular style of wine in our heads -- not overpowering, not the 1980's style of wine that you could stand a spoon up in. The foundation for any wine is where it is grown. We chose Mount Veeder because of its eastern exposure and elevation," says Marketta.

The elevation of the property puts their vines above the fog belt, giving them more sun exposure in terms of both hours per day and days per year than most of Napa Valley. The altitude also makes for cooler nights. The longer growing season caused by the geography, coupled with the high stress and low yields imposed on the vines through farming and geologic conditions, make for what the Fourmeaux believe is very unique fruit.

A truly family-run operation, Marketta serves as the winemaker while Jean-Noel manages the vineyards. Winemaking methods at Chateau Potelle are characterized as "gentle," with minimal usage of machines. Harvest, sorting and destemming are done by hand and fermentation of vineyard blocks is done separately using only natural yeasts. Wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

The estate produces Cabernet, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, a late harvest Zinfandel, a Syrah and Zinfandel from Paso Robles, and a rose wine along with this Chardonnay, which may be the only Chardonnay made on Mt. Veeder. Made from 31 year old vines that grow in 6 separate blocks, the wine is fermented separately by block slowly over nearly 4 months before spending 10 to 16 months in French oak, of which I suspect no more than 50% is new. The wines from each block, some austere, some lush, are blended to a final "assemblage" before bottling.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a very light green gold in the glass and has a nose filled with tropical aromas of pineapple, Meyer lemon and vanilla. In the mouth it is smooth and supple, with primary flavors of pineapple and tropical fruits that linger towards a long finish that is slightly warm from alcohol. The wine is pretty nicely balanced with a good amount of acidity and a conspicuous lack of hit-you-over-the-head oak.

Food Pairing:
I think this would go perfectly with these lobster crisps in a champagne dill sauce.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $30

This wine is available for sale on the Internet.

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