It’s not a huge leap from veterinary medicine to winemaking, and that leap is made even shorter when you’re enrolled at UC Davis which happens to be the top school in the nation for both. Dan Lee initially thought he wanted to work with animals, but a few courses as electives during his vet school tenure were enough to convince him to immediately enroll in the Enology program as soon as he finished his undergraduate degree.
While he still loves animals, Dan hasn’t looked back, graduating and continuing on to become a winemaker for Jekel and Durney (now Heller Estate), all the while plotting to start Morgan Winery. In 1982 he and his wife Donna celebrated their inaugural vintage with the release of a Chardonnay and since then have been making a wide variety of high quality wines with fruit sourced from other vineyards, and starting in 1999, with fruit from their own vineyard, the “Double L.”
With the maturation of their estate vineyard, Lee switched to focus exclusively on Monterey County fruit as well as to completely organic farming at the estate. Winemaker Gianni Abate also came aboard, fresh from a career as winemaker at some of the country’s largest wine companies, including Bronco, Delicato, and Robert Mondavi Winery, allowing Lee to assume the title and responsibilities of “Winegrower.”
After more than 25 years, the Morgan portfolio includes nearly 30 wines, including those produced under the second label “Lee Family Farm.” Lee has been making this Metallico Chardonnay for the last 7 years, with fruit primarily from the Arroyo Seco appellation of Monterey County. The bulk of the grapes come from the winery’s estate vineyards along with their neighbors, the Lucia Highlands Vineyard.
The grapes for this wine are crushed from whole clusters into stainless steel fermenters that are cooled to make sure the fermentation takes place slowly and in a controlled fashion. After the primary fermentation, the wine is racked into neutral, three-year-old oak barrels and is not put through a secondary malolactic fermentation (one of the chief sources of the buttery qualities of most California Chardonnays). It is aged for several months in these barrels on its fine lees (the yeasty sediments that fall to the bottom of the barrel) which are stirred to give the wine more body.
Unoaked Chardonnay is a wonderful invention as far as I am concerned. I think I had my first such wine in Australia about a decade ago, and fell in love with Chardonnay all over again. While it doesn’t achieve the profundity of some of the great white Burgundies, unoaked Chardonnay from the New World preserves some of their most appealing characteristics: crisp, pure fruit coupled with a nice minerality, usually accompanied by great acidity. More versatile than their heavily-oaked brethren, these wines are yet more proof that anyone swearing off Chardonnay on principle is really missing the boat.
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a lively nose of crisp apples and unripe pears, with a hint of guava. In the mouth it is crystalline in quality, with restrained lemon curd, cold cream, green melon, and wet slate flavors that slide refreshingly across the palate. A hint of buttered sourdough toast creeps into the finish, which, like the rest of the wine can only be characterized as refreshing.
I had this wine with a crab, tomato, and watercress terrine, and while most Chardonnays would have been a little heavy for the dish, this wine was a great match.
Overall Score: around 9
How Much?: $19
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.