1999 Mount Eden “Estate” Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains California

It’s pretty typical for folks who don’t live in California to think of Napa as the original site of winemaking in California, but in reality, winemaking has an even older history in several parts of the state like Amador county in the Sierra foothills and in particular, the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1878, a Frenchman named Paul Masson traveled from Burgundy to the little nothing of a mission town and orchards that were San Jose, California and started planting vines in the hills above what today is Saratoga. He quickly became the region’s “famous Frenchman” and primary winemaker, and started what is now a long history of grape growing and winemaking in the region.

Masson made friends with a gentleman named Martin Ray, who eventually purchased Masson’s champagne making operation to get started in the wine business. After learning the ropes, Ray sold the operation in 1942 and started what would become Mount Eden Vineyards with the acquisition of several vineyard sites in the Sixties.

Since then, Mount Eden has been the bastion of winemaking in the Santa Cruz Mountains along with Ridge and several other long standing winemaking operations.

Mount Eden, under the direction of winemaker Fred Patterson have been producing a small quantity of “Estate” Chardonnay from about 20 acres of fruit for decades. This wine is made to be their flagship product and to be age worthy in the French style. Pursuant to those goals, they restrict yields on their vineyards to concentrate flavors in the grapes, and use low impact winemaking processes like pressing whole clusters of grapes, stems and all, as well as letting the wine ferment and age in the barrels on the lees (mixed with all the pulp, seeds, and skins).

For what its worth, Robert Parker, Jr. says that “Without question, Mount Eden is one of the finest producers of Chardonnay in California.”

Tasting Notes:
Bright dandelion yellow in the glass, this wine has a complex shifting nose that contains elements of honey, citrus zest, tropical fruits (including mango and melons) and finally a high note of pinesap. In the mouth it has nice bright acidity surrounding flavors of buttercream, bosc pears, vanilla, sweet oak, and some floral elements in the finish. This wine is well balanced and not overwhelmingly buttery or oakey, likely due to the winemaking described above. Will likely age very well (5-10 years)

Food Pairing:
I had this wine as part of a large multi-course dinner (to be reviewed soon) and it went well with many things, but was lovely as a complement to a Crenshaw melon soup with almond oil and shredded tofu, which wasn’t exactly this recipe, but you get the idea.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $36

This wine can be found through various Internet retailers.