Nick Legg was an M-60 machine-gunner in the Army in the late 1980s, and he says that experience gave him the stamina to take on the world of wine.

Legg is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner -- the Graton Ridge Cellars, 2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay at $29.

"My experience in the U.S. Army made me well suited to the demands of winemaking," he said, "particularly the long hours associated with harvest time when you have to make solid choices with a tired mind."

In addition to this year's win, Legg also won wine-of-the-week honors last year for his prior vintage, the Graton Ridge 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Making chardonnay is his forte.

"I've been involved in barrel fermenting chardonnay for over 20 years now," Legg said. "I think I have been exposed to all the scenarios possible. It's this experience I draw from."

To make a standout wine, Legg knows complexity is the key.

"I use a variety of commercial yeast strains in an attempt to add complexity," he said. "This is even more important due to the limited production of Graton Ridge Cellars chardonnay. I'm often dealing with just one or two sources of grapes, so it's important to make choices that add complexity."

Before joining Graton Ridge Cellars in 2006, Legg worked at several wineries, including Conn Creek Winery in Napa Valley and Trentadue Winery in Sonoma County.

Graton Ridge Cellars makes about 1,800 cases of wine annually, and the chardonnay represents about 300 cases.

While a challenging part of making chardonnay is matching the oak level to the intensity of the wine, Legg said the most crucial task is picking the grapes at the right time.

"There is no bigger decision in winemaking," he said. "You can really doom a wine by picking prematurely or, alternatively, missing the window."

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or