Spotlight on “The New” California Chardonnay: Mount Eden Estate 2010

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photoThe new is old. With its vineyards originally planted in the 1940’s using material brought into California from Corton by Paul Masson in 1896, the winery now known as Mount Eden has a long history. However, it appropriately belongs in this spotlight as the estate’s integrity of style and site expression has steered it clear of the grotesque years of California Chardonnay and ensured its influence on many of the youngest winemakers of “the new” California, most of whom do not own vineyards.

A Pioneer in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Located in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Eden is one of the most important sources of Chardonnay clones in California, with the original cuttings having been brought from France by Masson, whose winery was later purchased by Martin Ray, whose holdings eventually were split into two: Peter Martin Ray vineyards and Mount Eden Estate. Thus, even though the vineyards have been replanted many times, with the current plantings dating to the late 1970’s, Mount Eden is a historic winery that was one of the Pioneers of Chardonnay in California.

The Santa Cruz Mountains are a confusing, complex place when it comes to site expression – one of the key focuses of “the new” California Chardonnay. The Mountains sit between two tectonic plates and have a wide variety of soils and micro-climates. Elevation varies considerably as well, from four hundred to several thousand feet.

The soils at Mount Eden Estate are shale with only one to twelve inches of top-soil. Winemaker Jeffrey Patterson uses an old-school approach, fermenting in old and new barrels, then aging for 10 months on lees. The 2010 saw 50/50 new and old oak fermentation and full malolactic. The estate also holds on to its bottles for 2 years before releasing them, a notable and expensive practise. However, it makes sense as the Estate Chardonnay is built for long term aging.

The Wine: Top California Chardonnay

This is impressive Chardonnay. It is far more complex and interesting than most of what is coming out of the state. On the highly expressive nose I noticed Guava, peach, and lemon rind. The palate is quite savory and mineral driven, with extremely dense fruit and many tightly wound layers. The length is tremendous. This is extremely serious wine. It is not at all tropical or over rich on the palate and has a structure that clearly allows the wine to at least a decade more, if not longer. The raw material is very healthy and intensely concentrated. Mount Eden should be on the list of every serious collector of California Chardonnay. I will be buying this wine for cellaring whenever I come across it. This wine affirms, along with Ridge’s Monte Bello, the potential of the Santa Cruz mountains for world class Chardonnay.

I also recommend seeking out Varner for top quality Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay.

Excellent to Excellent+
$60 at K&L, San Francisco


  1. David J Cooper
    July 16, 2014

    Welcome. The Santa Cruz Mountains region produces great wines. Mt Eden and Ridge from the old school and Varner, Neely and Rhys from the new. K and L has a pretty good selection from this region.

  2. Shea
    July 16, 2014

    It’s too bad of those producers only Ridge can be found in BC, and even then their Monte Bello chard is often hard to find.

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