Wine of the week: Fetzer, 2019 California Chardonnay
A winemaker is a hybrid: both a pragmatist and a free spirit. And both show up in the bottle.
“I’m a meticulous planner, and the chemistry of wine is paramount to me,” said Fetzer winemaker Margaret Leonardi. “In this profession, there are a myriad of factors that are beyond your control. Although I struggle at times with this unpredictability, the very nature of harvest — unpredictable — is the beautiful side of winemaking that makes each lot so unique and interesting.”
This free-spirited pragmatist is behind our wine of the week winner — the Fetzer, 2019 California Chardonnay at $8. This chardonnay over-delivers with layered flavors of peach, apple and pear. Lightly toasted, it has a kiss of vanilla on the finish. The Fetzer has some richness, but it’s kept in check with its crisp acid. This tasty chardonnay is a steal for the price.
Other tasty chardonnays include: Chev, 2018 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.3%, $98; Tongue Dancer, 2019 Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 13.1%, $42; Notre Vue, 2019 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.2%, $45, and Outerbound, 2019 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 14%, $30.
As for the Fetzer chardonnay, Leonardi said the style she’s shooting for is one that’s crisp and clean and lightly toasted. This bright and breezy style has been Fetzer’s house style for decades. In the 1980s, Fetzer bottled “Sundial,” which was virtually unoaked. Today, small amounts of viognier, chenin blanc and French colombard are added to the mix to give it floral appeal and stone fruit flavors on the palate.
“The key to this wine is balance, knowing when to go for a bit of opulence and when to remain focused on restraint,” Leonardi said. “The 2019 vintage brought cooler temperatures, lengthening the growing season and giving the fruit plenty of time on the vine to develop bright acidity and complex flavors.”
The wine has just a touch of toast. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks, and just a portion of the wine had contact with French and American oak to add complexity.
Leonardi, 33, was named head winemaker of Fetzer this year, and she’s the first woman to lead winemaking for Fetzer in the brand’s 50-plus year history. A graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she earned a degree in agriculture business, with a minor in marketing, wine and viticulture in 2009.
With her roots in agriculture, becoming a winemaker was a natural fit, Leonardi said.
“My dad, (Dennis Leonardi), is a successful third‐generation organic dairy farm operator in Humboldt County,” she said. “Being raised in that lifestyle, around the ups and downs of a production agriculture business, along with his strong work ethic, shaped me from a young age to be the person I am today. Early on, I wasn’t sure what I would end up doing, but I always knew I wanted to be in production agriculture. … The unpredictable nature of bottling wine, from vintage to vintage, gives me opportunities to grow as a winemaker.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.
Wine, The Press Democrat
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