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Wine of the week: Sebastiani 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay.

Mark Lyon was 16 when he was romanced by wine in Europe, prompting him to take a detour from becoming a doctor. In the end, he decided to tend wine rather than patients.

Lyon is the man behind our wine of the week winner – the Sebastiani 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay.

"I went to Europe with my grandparents and did extensive art tours and experienced the finer things in life, too — great food and wine," he said. "My original intent was to become a doctor because of my aptitude with the sciences. However, I was romanticized by the great wines of Tuscany, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa Valley Cabernet and never looked back."

Lyon did research for his high school senior year physics project on the soils that make the best cabernet sites in Napa Valley, paying close attention to Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyard and Heitz Martha's Vineyard. He later went to UC Davis and studied Enology with fellow wine enthusiasts David Ramey of Ramey Wines Cellars in Healdsburg and Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz.

One of the most challenging parts of being a winemaker, Lyon said, is the detail involved.

"It's the logistics of taking your winemaking plans and executing them with the cellar workers and cellar supervisors," he said. "There's a tremendous amount of detail to manage in both the vineyard and winery to keep track of."

With an eye to chardonnay, Lyon said he makes a toastier version, for a good reason — consumers expect it.

"I really believe that the California chardonnay a consumer expects is a fuller, richer style than, let's say, a white Burgundy," he said. "This wine over-delivers for that style of wine and goes to show that necessity is the mother of invention — i.e., the ability to make a richer, toastier style with a limited budget."

What's Lyon's secret for making a budget-savvy chardonnay with a price tag of $13?

"I rely on using, for instance, Hungarian oak barrels as opposed to French oak, which is the same wood species, but 40 percent less expensive," he said. "I also recycle older barrels effectively rather than discard after three years of use. Finally, we farm a lot of our own chardonnay and therefore can keep the farming expense down."

With consumers distracted by less mainstream varietals, Lyon endeavors to keep chardonnay front and center. His strategy?

"Prevent chardonnay from becoming a commodity by sticking to the Sonoma County appellation," he said. "I believe that Sonoma County is arguably the best chardonnay region in the United States. This means lower margins as a result, but we keep our quality name going .

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." Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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