Justin Harmon grew up with milk on his table and beer was the beverage of choice at family gatherings. He was 20-something before wine crossed his path, but then he was smitten.
Harmon, now 41, is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Slang, 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay at $15.
This brand of Argot Wines has bright fruit of apple and pear, coupled with notes of brioche and mineral. Toasty and surprisingly supple, it’s extremely well crafted for the price.
What goes on behind the scenes to make this wine so appealing is plenty of pampering, Harmon said.
“Once in the winery, the care and attention that goes into making this wine is rare at this price point — most notably barrel fermentation in the first-pass French oak barrels …”
The logistics of making and tracking chardonnay is challenging because of all the fermenting barrels, Harmon said.
“Chardonnay raised in barrel is our favorite expression of the grape by leaps and bounds, and our commitment to this style is resolute,” he said. “It’s time consuming, expensive and risky, but 100 percent worth it.”
Wine first began romancing Harmon when he was a consumer in Chicago. He lived down the block from Sam’s Wine & Spirits, a place that intrigued him.
“Sam’s was the size of a Target, and with a huge inventory, staffed by an incredibly knowledgeable and talented sales team,” he said. “It was at Sam’s that my love for wine (and my collection) truly blossomed.”
As his fascination with wine grew, Harmon became a home winemaker with a makeshift winery in his basement.
“I carried out the entire winemaking process in my basement — from inoculation to fermentation in 35-gallon garbage cans.”
Harmon made the bold move to Sonoma County to re-invent himself as a vintner/winemaker, founding Santa Rosa’s Argot Wines in 2007. He studied chemical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1997.
What makes Harmon a great fit to be a winemaker is his duality.
“I’m both endlessly curious, and decidedly decisive,” he said. “Winemaking involves a matrix of choices of infinite dimensions. It’s both the blessing and the curse of the art. It can be very easy to become bogged down in the minutiae, but at a certain point you have to go with your gut and keep moving forward.”
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Slang, 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.7% alcohol, $15. ★★★★: This brand of Argot Wines has bright fruit of apple and pear coupled with notes of brioche and mineral. Toasty and surprisingly supple, it’s extremely well crafted, a steal for the price.
Joseph Phelps, 2015 Freestone Vineyards, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 14.1%, $55. ★★★★1/2: A gorgeous chardonnay with notes of baked apple, melon and mineral. A lush style of chardonnay, for sure, but the acid keeps it balanced. Seamless texture. Lingering finish. Bravo.
Donelan Wines, 2014 Nancie Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14%, $48. ★★★★: Striking stone fruit -- ripe peach particularly -- makes this a standout. Notes of citrus zest coupled with brioche gives this yin yang balance. Nice length. Honey-kissed finish. Lovely.
Gloria Ferrer, 2014 Jose S. Ferrer Selection Chardonnay, 14.5%, $40. ★★★★: A tropical chardonnay with aromas and flavors of pear, pineapple and toast. It’s buoyed with bright acidity, giving it great balance. Smart.
Rodney Strong, 2015 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.5%, $17. ★★★★: This is a class act chardonnay for the budget-minded. Lovely notes of pear, baked apple, brioche and citrus. Creamy texture. Long finish. Extremely well crafted.