It has the white peach, toasted almond or marshmallow, and ripe pear nose that is expected with Chardonnay, as well as plenty of weight, length, and richness. It is not showy, however — it’s incredible opulence is natural, not created in the cellar. It has a distinct core of rock dust, or ground oyster shell, which is the distinguishing characteristic of the vineyard.
The Michael Mara Vineyard is west of the town of Sonoma, at the base of the Sonoma Mountain range.The soil is the result of a cataclysmic landslide that cascaded rocks and volcanic soil down onto one spot of the valley below. Surrounded by normal valley floor loam, the Michael Mara Vineyard is situated on a unique lobe of rocks and red soil. This is a wine borne from blood, sweat, and tears. The dream of planting our own vineyard from scratch verged on nightmare as we struggled with the rockiest soil I’ve experienced in 20 years of working in vineyards. It almost put us out of business. The rocks were finally surmounted and the vineyard produced a crop, one that we ended up having to mostly sell to other wineries to cover the unanticipated expense of planting. We were able to hold a small amount of fruit back for ourselves. The effort of planting was consummated by making the wine. It was clearly worth it.
The wine is 100 percent Chardonnay, clone 4 (the clone highest in natural acidity that we are aware of). The fruit was picked in two batches. The first batch, 80% of the wine, was harvested very early, to capture the high natural acidity and maintain a moderate alcohol level. The second harvest, 20% of the wine, was done a little bit later, to capture the richness and power of the vineyard site. The fruit from each harvest was lightly whole-cluster-pressed, settled for 24 hours, then barrel fermented. The wine went through 100% malolactic fermentation in eight older neutral barrels and two new French oak barrels.
It was given 18 months of barrel aging, with no topping or sulfur added until bottling. There was also no battonage — the wine rested undisturbed.