Wine of the week: Ziata, 2016 Carneros, Napa Valley Chardonnay

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An insatiable curiosity can pose logistical challenges for winemakers if they want to taste every grape grown on the planet. There are, for the record, more than 10,000 grape varieties in the world; Mother Nature, fertile with countless possibilities, is prolific.

Jennifer Williams is one such winemaker, and she’s behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Ziata, 2016 Carneros, Napa Valley Chardonnay at $50.

“One of my weaknesses is wanting to try so many different vineyards,” Williams said. “I’d love to try every grape.”

She said knitters face a similar predicament.

“They keep buying yarn even if they can’t get to the project,” Williams said.

Producing Ziata, Williams is happy to report, required ample tasting.

“We look at many different clone types because it adds layering and gives up options at blending time,” Williams explained. “This way we can put the very best wine in the bottle.”

The Ziata is the ultimate blousy chardonnay. It’s complex and has a lush texture yet manages to be balanced with bright acidity. Flavors of apple and melon are layered with decadent notes of butterscotch, crème brulée and a hint of honey. This is definitely a chardonnay lover’s chardonnay.

Karen Cakebread, the winery founder, said it’s rich but has a freshness along with it.

“You want to have a chardonnay where you ask for a second glass, and then a second bottle,” she said.

The founder formerly worked at Cakebread Cellars in St. Helena for 18 years, creating Ziata in 2008. In 2016, she formed a partnership with Trinchero Family Estates in St. Helena. The 2016 vintage is Ziata’s inaugural chardonnay, and Williams said the most challenging part of producing this varietal is finding the right vineyards to make the style you want.

“We searched for quite a while for the vineyards for the chardonnay,” she said. “It’s a matter of understanding what you’re seeing in the vineyard. You need to look at soils and the canopy and how the vines are farmed and the slope aspect.”

Williams, 42, graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1999 with an agricultural science degree.

“I was drawn to winemaking in college,” she said. “I would come to Napa Valley to see winemaking in action. The community is built around wine and food, with al fresco dining in the backyard surrounded by the vines.”

What Williams finds most compelling about making wines is the metamorphosis.

“We start with a raw product –– grapes –– and create a beautiful, complex drink,” Williams said.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or at

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