Farewell to Hanzell
We just released our Hanzell Vineyard Chardonnay from the small, droughty 2014 vintage. After six years in this iconic vineyard, the 2014 will be our last. Such is the path of the intrepid negociant winery who doesn't own their fruit sources. Experience has taught us that fruit sources come and fruit sources go. The Hanzell Estate has launched a second label and wanted their fruit back. While we understand the reasoning, we'd be lying if we said this one didn't sting a little.
Why is Hanzell so great?
Our observation of this vineyard over the past six years has led us to the following conclusions:
Lucky guess. Zellarbach had no idea that Chardonnay—an untested grape variety at the time--would have such a vocation for this site.
Age matters. The oldest vines are now 63 years old. You simply cannot manufacture the character born of old vines, and this Chardonnay is among the oldest in North America.
Noble dirt. Hanzell is planted on a decomposing band of volcanic soil. Soil so tough former winemaker Bob Sessions called it "better suited to the pick than to the shovel."
Mid-slope. Like the Grand Cru vineyards in the Cote d' Or and Chablis, Hanzell is situated in the middle of the hill, protected from extremities, in poor soils that drain water.
A unique clone. The Hanzell Vineyard has practiced selection massale since day one. When a vine expires in the vineyard only native budwood is used to replace it. Sixty years of this disciplined vineyard practice has given reason to believe that what started as Wente Clone in 1953 has mutated into another clone—a clone they have registered at UC Davis as "Hanzell Clone." It is the only place in the world with this clone.
Most fans of the Hanzell Vineyard have some stories about older bottles. We have one too. A few years ago, then-president Jean Arnold invited some winemakers up to the estate for dinner. She pulled a dusty, unmarked bottle out of the cellar, poured the still brilliant white wine into our Burgundy bulbs, and encouraged her guests to speculate on the vintage. This a game you are always fit to lose. I guessed it was 1993 Hanzell Chardonnay. My dinner companion Jasmine Hirsch guessed it was 1998 Hanzell Chardonnay. We were both wrong. It was 1977 Hanzell Chardonnay—still full of energy and snap.
Will the wines LIOCO made here last for 40 years? Hard to say. All truly great wines should show character in their youth, at middle age, and when old. Our 2014 Hanzell is certainly ravishing in its youth. The 2011 is drinking pretty well too—the fruit is ceding way to that characteristic Hanzell stoniness. One can only dream from here...