Go-to spots for the best coastal chardonnays

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.

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.

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.

MacRostie Winery & Vineyards

Established in 1987 by Steve MacRostie, the winery has long been known for making balanced, age-worthy wines. MacRostie toiled in the soils of Carneros and the Petaluma Gap for years before venturing into the extreme Sonoma Coast to source some 30 sites for grapes, including Campbell Ranch, Keefer Ranch and Dutton Ranch. Heidi Bridenhagen has been making the wines since 2011, as head winemaker since 2013. The 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($25) is bright in tangerine and lime with just a trace of subtle vanilla oak. A new winery and tasting room on Westside Road is set to open in December.

Red Car

The winery is making some of the best wines of its life, following up a stellar 2011 lineup with bottles of dreamy 2012-vintage pinot noir, syrah and chardonnay. The 2012 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay ($58) hails from Fort Ross-Seaview, high atop a ridge near two other top vineyards, Wayfarer and Hirsch. Complex and singularly cool-climate, gamey and floral in aromas, it offers crisp citrus-adorned flavor buoyed by tangy acidity. Also look for the 2012 Ritchie Vineyard and Zephyr Farms Vineyard chardonnays. Red Car’s winery and tasting room off Graton Road in Sebastopol is a good place to try them all.


Jason Pahlmeyer made his name in Napa cabernet sauvignon, but came out to the Sonoma Coast in the late 1990s to develop 70 acres in Fort Ross-Seaview devoted to pinot noir and chardonnay. It was planted in 2002. The first estate-grown pinot noirs and chardonnays, all 2012 vintage, are set to be released soon, made by the very talented Bibiana Gonzalez Rave, formerly of Lynmar Estate. Look for the Wayfarer Vineyard Chardonnay ($80), an elegant study in balance and vibrancy.

Virginie Boone is a freelance wine writer based in Sonoma County. She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @vboone.

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