Philo, Anderson valley (California).
Our friend Ken visited this winery a few years ago by pure chance : he was driving along this quiet Mendocino county road (highway 128) and noticed the simple sign on the side. He had never heard of the winery but presumed this might be a family winery, and decided to try his chance here.
Chance must always be an option, because it works... After you drive on a long stretch of winding dirt/gravel road in the thick shadow of oak groves [see picture on the right], wondering whether you'll find any vineyards out there, the landscapre opens up to the beautiful and serene quietness of this Anderson Valley's back country: a couple of old houses, a barn, a rusting pick-up truck... and vineyards.
The visit was not planned, and we were lucky to find someone that afternoon : After parking in front of an old fence and a garden overflowing with flowers, we walked to the single-story house and to the winery nearby.
Mary Beth Chandler soon arrived and we made the presentations. She gently opened us the chai to present their wines and tell more about the winery.
The farm was started in the early 20th century by an italian family named Pinoli. Read this very informative page about the history of Anderson Valley. The Pinoli family started with traditional farming, orchards and did vineyards too. Joe Pinoli is said to have founded with Lazy Creek the second oldest winery of Anderson Valley. Then, a swiss, Hans Kobler and his family came and really started anew the farm, the orchards, and planted vineyards, in 1969. The winery facility itself was built in 1973.
Josh and Mary Beth Chandler came here in 1999 to make wine. Josh had been a vineyard grower for years in Napa. He is a man of many resources, being also a trained chef (worked at the Auberge du Soleil in Napa) and a landscape architect. Before purchasing Lazy Creek, they had been looking for a winery for 2 years and the market was hot then. They had just made an offer somewhere else without any answer. Then they came around here, visited a place, then another one. In this second location (this was not Lazy Creek), someone came to them, thinking they were here for the Lazy Creek sale (they did not even know about the Lazy Creek winery being for sale in the first place), so thanks to this coincidence, they happened to be the first interested buyers on the spot, and they actually made the deal. Their offer was accepted, possibly because they wanted to keep the original name. There were 19 acres of planted vineyards then, 7 of them in Pinot Noir, about 4,5 acres of Gewurztraminer and 2 of Riesling. They've done 2 plantings since : the first one 6 years ago, with additional Pinot Noir and a little of Gewurz, then one year ago (in june), with a little more of P.N. and Riesling, plus some more Gewurz, with cuttings from existing ones. They now have 30 acres altogether.
Before buying the estate, they had worked with some wineries in Napa, and they had frequented the UC-Davis milieu but without being mainstrem winemakers themselves, and they wanted to work on their own style. Their philosophy, from a conversation I had with Josh on the phone, is to focus on having the best grapes possible and then let the wine make its way relatively unimpeded : As a grower, he understood that when the fruit is perfect, the rest will come easy. The vinification work is basically watching the wine making itself and intervene very little. They use very little new wood, to avoid the vanilla, butterscotch aromas. Thet do not not filter their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They also don't filter the Syrah they make from purchased (Anderson-Valley) grapes.
We have been discussing with Mary Beth in the cool vat house, in a corner of which the tasting bar stands, in full view of the big capacity foudres (that they use solely for the rosé and the Gewurz), the casks and the stainless-steel vats [picture on top]. Jaime Torres is working among the casks, racking white wine while we begin to taste [picture on the left]. She says he knows the estate better than themselves, as he has been here for many more years. We are eager to taste the wines. The northern California region of Anderson Valley is known (and Lazy Creek in particular) for its outstanding Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir, basically cool-weather varieties. Even dry Pinot Blanc.
__1 Gewurztraminer 2004 "dry". 0,1g residual sugar. 22 Dollars. From the oldest Gewurztraminer vines around (38 years). White peach, leeches on the nose. Nice acidity, currants aromas. Mary Beth says they keep sheep and cows in the property too. They make compost for the vineyard but they buy also some, because making compost is a lot of work.
__2 Riesling 2005. Jaime pours us some of the wine he is racking now. Very nice acidity and very well balanced. Mary Beth says they value this acidity, it comes from the cool nights in the area, and also from the vines, the soil and the time of the harvest. In 2005, oct 9th was the first day of picking, which is all done by hand here, the region being so hilly. The estate is not in biodynamy. It is organically farmed since the beginning. She says the vineyard looks "wild" maybe, but it is meticulously overlooked in the non-chemical way. They add fish emulsion to the drip water once a year. They tried dry farming but came to the conclusion that a little bit of drip water was necessary. They are not too generous in the water flow and use it when the heat and drought are too serious.
__3 Chardonnay 2004. Bottled already but will go out on the market in november only. No malolactic fermentation here. Old casks only. Nice mouth. Aromas of pomelos, then praline, B. notes. Long feeling in the mouth.
__4 Rosé Pinot Noir 2005. 100% Pinot Noir. Gamay/beaujolais clone with lots of acidity. 0,2g residual sugar. Dry farmed, cane pruned. Very low yields here :2 ton/acre. The low crop level is why the texture is so nice here. Acidulous notes on the nose. Aged in foudres (big casks) on its lees. 19,9 Dollars.
__5 Pinot Noir (estate) 2004. 13,9°. 22 Dollars. Nose : jammy black fruits. Mouth : good... balanced and "gourmand". They tasted bottles from the previous owner and some of them age well. they just had a 1986 recently and it was lovely. The Pinot Noir is open-top fermented, then pressed, then goes into both 500-liter and 225-liter casks. 18-20% whole clusters usually, depending of the year (much higher for the Syrah : 50%). Josh told me on the phone that in his eyes, Pinot Noir should not be touched for at least 5 years. They sell it already now but recommend this laying-down time to fully enjoy the wine's potential. The wine is already balanced now but needs time for the velvety and smoothness in the mouth.
They also make a Pinot Noir Reserve (96 cases only) with yields as low as 0,95 ton/acre.
The Chandlers are the happy parents of 4, with their last child, a girl, born 3 1/2 months ago...
Great first visit !