Olema, 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.2% alcohol, $15. ★★★★

This is a balanced chardonnay, a yin yang of rich and crisp. Aromas of apple and pineapple. On the palate, notes of apple, caramel and the quench of lemon. Lingering finish. An incredible value for the quality.


Smith-Madrone, 2014 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.3%, $32. ★★★★1/2: This is a gorgeous chardonnay, lush yet crisp, a commingling of delicious flavors. Aromas and flavors of pear, apple and mineral. Bright acidity. Supple mouth-feel. Striking.

Bucher, 2015 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.4%, $30. ★★★★: A layered chardonnay that’s lively with notes of apple, pineapple and mango. Rich tropical flavors are coupled with bright acidity to craft a balanced chardonnay. Finishes crisp. Bravo.

J. Lohr, 2015 Riverstone, Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay, 13.5%, $15. ★★★1/2: A pretty chardonnay with a range of flavors -- Meyer lemon, peach, honey and apricot. Toasty finish. A touch sweet, but not off-putting. Solid.

Edna Valley Vineyard, 2014 Central Coast Chardonnay, 13%, $15. ★★★1/2: A solid chardonnay for the budget-minded. Tasty notes of toast, apple and apricot. Nice acidity keeps the rich flavors in check. Nice crisp finish. Smart.


Peg Melnik’s Tasting Room blog

Bobby Donnell describes his Olema chardonnay as fruit-driven with oak riding shotgun.

An edgy yet apt description and the reason Donnell’s wine is our wine-of-the week winner.

The Olema, 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay at $15 is balanced with a yin yang that’s rich and crisp. It has aromas of apple and pineapple. On the palate, it has notes of apple, caramel and the quench of lemon. The Olema has a round texture and a lingering finish.

Donnell, 43, is the Olema winemaker, and he said the style he’s shooting for is “balanced…the right amount of French oak to lift the fruit of the chardonnay and let the grape itself be the focus.”

The challenge in crafting the chardonnay, Donnell said, is achieving pitch perfect balance.

“I strive not to mask or hide the fruit behind oak, but use the oak to lift the fruit to the surface,” Donnell said. “For me, I balance the chardonnay fruit with the proper amount of oak and malolactic fermentation.”

The Olema brand is building a solid reputation with consistency, Donnell said.

“I think this is also what really sets Olema chardonnay apart: quality and value,” he said. “It’s a great bottle of wine for a great price. Our consumers know what they are getting every time and we know what they have come to expect.”

Donnell said he’s been well schooled in winemaking on both sides of the Mayacamas.

“My strength is that I’m coming from working not only closely with great winemakers in Napa Valley but also with great winemakers in Sonoma,” he said. “I get to see both sides and different styles of winemaking. I get to see people making bold Napa cabs and lush, velvety chardonnays from Sonoma. I get the best of both worlds, taking different fermentation styles and different practices from both sides.”

The Olema brand is a second bottling of Calistoga-based Amici Cellars. Donnell joined Amici Cellars in 2012 as assistant winemaker. Today he has full responsibility for Olema.

Donnell has a BA degree in hotel and restaurant management from Texas Tech University in Lubbock Texas, graduating in 1996. He completed UC Davis with a winemaking certificate extension in 2010.

The winemaker said what happened behind the scenes to make the Olema turn heads was “tasting, tasting and more tasting.”

“What sets it apart is religiously tasting and getting feedback from every lot, from production to bottling, to be sure we are blending and sourcing properly.”