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Go-to spots for the best coastal chardonnays

  • Winemaker Justin Ennis tastes grapes from a block of coastal chardonnay at the Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

It has been fashionable for some time for people to claim they’ll drink anything but chardonnay, and yet the stylistically eclectic white wine belies its doubters, remaining the most popular wine of any color in the United States.

Grown in many locations and made in many ways, from rich and oaky to lean and lemony, chardonnay is a chameleon of many colors. From the Sonoma Coast appellation, admittedly a vast area, styles also range, but the coastal influence of many of the vineyard sites typically impacts acidity levels in positive ways, producing wines, even when made in a richer style, of balance and mouth-watering minerality, layered in flavors of lemon, apple and pear.

Many of the best from the coolest of cool-climate sites have the acid, structure and purity of fruit to make them luxurious and elegant. Here are some producers to seek out.

Fort Ross Vineyard

For one of the best visual examples of how the Pacific Ocean influences coastal vineyards and the wines made from them, take a drive out to Fort Ross Vineyard in Jenner to taste through its wines while observing the blowing fog patterns below. With one of the only tasting rooms open to visitors out on the extreme Sonoma Coast, Fort Ross offers coastal pinot noir and pinotage in addition to chardonnay, all grown about a mile from the ocean and crafted into glorious wines by the gifted Jeff Pisoni. The 2012 chardonnay ($44) is complexly bound in rounded minerality amid aromas and flavors of caramel and apple. fortrossvineyard.com.

Charles Heintz Vineyard & Winery

On the outskirts of Occidental, Heintz Ranch has been in the same family since 1912. Farmed today by third-generation grape grower Charlie Heintz, it is a highly sought-after source of pinot noir and chardonnay, a rolling site 900 feet high surrounded by forested ridges. Among the wineries that buy chardonnay grapes from Heintz are Ceritas, Zepaltas, Littorai, Migration, Williams Selyem and DuMol, while Heintz itself now makes a Chardonnay, too, its winemaker is Hugh Chappelle. The 2012 ($45) is awash in baked apple and orange blossom, elegant and creamy. heintzvineyards.com.

Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards

Phelps staked out its Sonoma outpost about a decade ago, choosing chilly Freestone for its vineyard site and winemaking operation, making it among the first and most committed Napa Valley producers to see the potential of Sonoma Coast fruit. It remains a name to look for to this day, both for pinot noir and chardonnay; the 2012 Estate Grown Chardonnay ($55) is layered in Meyer lemon and brioche; its viscous mouthfeel is delightfully fulfilling. Winemaker Justin Ennis, with Freestone since 2007, came over from Williams Selyem. josephphelps.com.

MacRostie Winery & Vineyards


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