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Chardonnay choice

  • Marimar Torres of Marimar Torres Estate Winery, nestled in the coastal hills between Graton and Occidental, Friday May 25, 2012. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

The first wine Marimar Torres ever made was a 1989 chardonnay from estate-grown Russian River Valley vines.

It was her first harvest after having bought in 1981 cleared land 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean on Graton Road. It's an area now known as Green Valley, a sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley.

On the advice of her brother — who had told her the land was too expensive, had too low a soil pH and without any other vineyards around was too isolated — she started a system of high-density planting, putting in 2,000 vines per acre, four times the traditional spacing in California.

"Our planting style is unique in chardonnay," explains Marimar Estate cellar master and vineyard manager Tony Britton. "The denser planting has become popular in premium pinot noir vineyards, but there aren't a lot of chardonnay vineyards planted with this spacing. We're thinking that with the root competition we're getting more concentration of flavors than you otherwise might see."

In Spain, Torres' family had been growing grapes and making wine since the 17th century, establishing the House of Torres in 1870. Her father, Don Miguel Torres, and mother, Dona Margarita, had guided the family winery through 60 years of growth and progress.

They didn't quite understand why Marimar, their only daughter, was fixated on Sonoma County instead of on joining her two brothers to run the wine business back home.

But Marimar brought her chardonnay to Spain and had her father try it. He declared it the best white wine he had ever had, turning to his wife Margarita and announcing that "we must have a winery in California."

"Our chardonnay gets some of the best soil and best microclimates on the property," Britton said. "We get tremendous acid structure, there's a crispness that we find that maybe you don't find in some of the warmer areas of the Russian River and Napa Valley."

And so Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery began. She added an estate pinot noir in 1992 and built their onsite winery and tasting room.

In 1999, she released "Dobles Lias," a chardonnay that gets extended lees contact, a traditional Burgundian technique that adds richness and complexity. Torres admits it's a wine people either love or hate.

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