THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING

Chardonnay

TOP PICK

Olema

Olema, 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.2% alcohol, $15. ★★★★

This is a balanced chardonnay, a yin yang of rich and crisp. Aromas of apple and pineapple. On the palate, notes of apple, caramel and the quench of lemon. Lingering finish. An incredible value for the quality.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Smith-Madrone, 2014 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.3%, $32. ★★★★1/2: This is a gorgeous chardonnay, lush yet crisp, a commingling of delicious flavors. Aromas and flavors of pear, apple and mineral. Bright acidity. Supple mouth-feel. Striking.

Bucher, 2015 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.4%, $30. ★★★★: A layered chardonnay that’s lively with notes of apple, pineapple and mango. Rich tropical flavors are coupled with bright acidity to craft a balanced chardonnay. Finishes crisp. Bravo.

J. Lohr, 2015 Riverstone, Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay, 13.5%, $15. ★★★1/2: A pretty chardonnay with a range of flavors -- Meyer lemon, peach, honey and apricot. Toasty finish. A touch sweet, but not off-putting. Solid.

Edna Valley Vineyard, 2014 Central Coast Chardonnay, 13%, $15. ★★★1/2: A solid chardonnay for the budget-minded. Tasty notes of toast, apple and apricot. Nice acidity keeps the rich flavors in check. Nice crisp finish. Smart.

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Peg Melnik’s Tasting Room blog

Bobby Donnell describes his Olema chardonnay as fruit-driven with oak riding shotgun.

An edgy yet apt description and the reason Donnell’s wine is our wine-of-the week winner.

The Olema, 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay at $15 is balanced with a yin yang that’s rich and crisp. It has aromas of apple and pineapple. On the palate, it has notes of apple, caramel and the quench of lemon. The Olema has a round texture and a lingering finish.

Donnell, 43, is the Olema winemaker, and he said the style he’s shooting for is “balanced…the right amount of French oak to lift the fruit of the chardonnay and let the grape itself be the focus.”

The challenge in crafting the chardonnay, Donnell said, is achieving pitch perfect balance.

“I strive not to mask or hide the fruit behind oak, but use the oak to lift the fruit to the surface,” Donnell said. “For me, I balance the chardonnay fruit with the proper amount of oak and malolactic fermentation.”

The Olema brand is building a solid reputation with consistency, Donnell said.

“I think this is also what really sets Olema chardonnay apart: quality and value,” he said. “It’s a great bottle of wine for a great price. Our consumers know what they are getting every time and we know what they have come to expect.”

Donnell said he’s been well schooled in winemaking on both sides of the Mayacamas.

“My strength is that I’m coming from working not only closely with great winemakers in Napa Valley but also with great winemakers in Sonoma,” he said. “I get to see both sides and different styles of winemaking. I get to see people making bold Napa cabs and lush, velvety chardonnays from Sonoma. I get the best of both worlds, taking different fermentation styles and different practices from both sides.”

The Olema brand is a second bottling of Calistoga-based Amici Cellars. Donnell joined Amici Cellars in 2012 as assistant winemaker. Today he has full responsibility for Olema.

Donnell has a BA degree in hotel and restaurant management from Texas Tech University in Lubbock Texas, graduating in 1996. He completed UC Davis with a winemaking certificate extension in 2010.

The winemaker said what happened behind the scenes to make the Olema turn heads was “tasting, tasting and more tasting.”

“What sets it apart is religiously tasting and getting feedback from every lot, from production to bottling, to be sure we are blending and sourcing properly.”

Where to see the Wildflowers

Wildflower or Wildfire Hikes at Sonoma Regional Parks in April 2018

For directions and registration information, go to: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Play/Calendar

April 8, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park: Explore the park’s spring wildflowers and the rich biodiversity. Search for blooms beneath the majestic redwoods, along Matanzas creek, amidst beautiful oaks and throughout open meadows as we climb the north slope of Sonoma Mountain. Enjoy lunch and breathtaking views from the Bennett Valley Overlook on this 5-mile hike.

April 14, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Wildfire Ecology Hikes - Hood Mountain Regional Park: How are the parks recovering from the Sonoma County wildfires? Join a Regional Parks naturalist on 7-mile hike in Hood Mountain Regional Park.

April 14, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks - Taylor Mountain Regional Park - Petaluma Hill Road Entrance: Enjoy surprising stories and fascinating facts about nature’s blooming treasures as we search along the trail for spring wildflowers and spectacular scenery.

April 14, 2018 from 2:00 – 4:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: Creekside Wildflower Walk -Crane Creek Regional Park: Explore edible, medicinal, useful and wondrous wildflowers. Spot remarkable blooms and discover their stories on this fun and informative 3-mile walk with a knowledgeable naturalist.

April 21, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: Serpentine Secrets - Tolay Lake Regional Park: Join Regional Parks and the Sonoma Land Trust to experience spring’s riches at Tolay Lake Regional Park and discover rare, diverse and abundant displays of native wildflowers. Learn about California’s serpentine soils and their important and unique relationship with native wildflower species. Enjoy amazing views of San Pablo Bay and beyond on this 6-mile, semi-strenuous hike through open, rolling grasslands. Bring a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water and a picnic lunch.

April 28, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Wildfire Ecology Hike - Sonoma Valley Regional Park: How are the parks recovering from the Sonoma County wildfires? Join a Regional Parks naturalist on an easy to moderate-level 3-mile hike in Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen.

April 29, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: From Wildfire to Wildflower - Sonoma Valley Regional Park: Explore this unique botanical hotspot, observe splendid spring blooms, and discover the fascinating relationship between wildfire and wildflowers. This park was profoundly affected by the October 2017 Nuns Fire. Expect to see the park respond with an abundant and diverse display of wildflowers this spring — a beautiful reminder and charming celebration of nature’s resilience.

Wildflower and Wildfire Hikes at State Parks in Sonoma County in April 2018

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

For directions and registration information go to: sonomaecologycenter.org/events

April 8, 2018 from 9:30 AM – 1:30 PM
Join botanist Ann Howald of California Native Plant Society‘s Milo Baker chapter to tour areas of the park that burned in the October wildfires. The walk’s emphasis is on recovery of trees and shrubs that burned, and to look for wildflowers–possibly ones that follow fires and have not been seen for decades.

April 22, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Join Botanist, Peter Warner, in this Earth Day Sugarloaf exploration! Fire is a powerful, rejuvenating force in California plant ecology. On this leisurely walk, with some elevation gains and losses, well observe and discuss the various effects of fire and its chemical by-products on the flora (and fauna) across several different habitat types, including grassland, oak woodland, and chaparral.

April 14, 15 and 28, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Join park naturalists and/or Sonoma Ecology Center staff to learn how to interpret fire landscapes at Sugarloaf that burned in the recent wildfires. Come see the land recover. We will be assessing burned trees, learning how to interpret fire-affected landscapes, and watching for special “fire follower” wildflowers. Discussion questions include: Why did this happen? What does it mean? How do we prepare for it happening again?

Jack London State Park

For directions and registration information for Jack London hikes, go to: jacklondonpark.com/jack-london-future-events.html

April 7, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM
Wildflowers on the East Slope Trail: It’s been a three years since the Eliot Loop Trail opened with the help of the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District. Join us as we discover an array of wildflowers that bloom along the trail while enjoying the fantastic views! We will expect to see carpets of California Poppies and Lupines at the top and a variety of wildflowers along the Sonoma Ridge trail. Join Park naturalist John Lynch as we take a moderately paced 12 mile nature hike to explore the wildflowers and anything else we find along the way.

Earth Day Wildflower Walk and Hike
April 21, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM (walk) and April 22, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 1:30 (hike)
This Earth Day weekend revel in the beauty of spring with either a wildflower walk or hike. These outdoor adventures will be led by naturalist John Lynch and focus on the interconnected web of nature at the Park. Saturday discover the wildflowers along the Wolf House trail on an easy short walk or on Sunday, take an intermediate 4 to 8 mile hike, we’ll go where the wildflowers are best, on back country trails to discover a wider variety of wildflowers. With both you can expect to see Canyon Delphinium, Chinese Houses, Golden Fairy Lantern, Lupine, Popcorn Flower, Mules Ears (2 varieties) as well as the birds, reptiles and other plants that make up the eco-system of the Park. Our hikes are slow-paced so allow plenty of time, bring cameras, binoculars, poles, plenty of water, snacks and wear sturdy shoes. Be prepared for uneven ground.

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here