Spotlight on “The New” California Chardonnay: Hirsch Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2012

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photoOne of the most important persons in the Sonoma Coast is David Hirsch, who purchased the land that eventually became his eponymous Sonoma Coast estate in 1978 after working in the clothing business. He first planted Pinot Noir in 1980, with Chardonnay following much later in 1994. Since then, Hirsch has gradually moved from a part-time resident satisfied with selling grapes to others to a proprietor of one of the greatest California sites for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vineyard is part of the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Many top producers clamour for fruit from Hirsch, including Williams-Selyem, Flowers, and Littorai. The vineyard is now a darling of “the new” California movement.

On Balance and the Coast

David Hirsch’s daughter Jasmine Hirsch is a founding member along with Rajat Parr of the In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) event in San Francisco, which started in 2011 and has grown ever since. This event was one of the key developments that brought attention to the new generation of California producers who focused on elegance and balance rather than power. The list of member wineries is pretty much a who’s who of ‘new california’ leaders. Its influence continues to grow each year and it is now held in both San Francisco and New York City.

The philosophy of IPOB exemplifies what Hirsch is all about. Its extreme coastal climate, myriad sub-soils (loams, clay, sandstone) and large plantings (64 acres of Pinot Noir and 3.9 of Chardonnay) have allowed Hirsch to experiment with site expression. He says this experimentation has really only just begun and there is still much to learn about the vineyard. Hirsch began converting to biodynamics in 2011. Ross Cobb of the excellent Cobb vineyards is the winemaker.

The climate in the western reaches of the Sonoma Coast where Hirsch is located see considerable rainfall between October and April and then very dry summers.

The Wine: True California Terroir

The 2012 vintage is considered an excellent year in much of California and the Sonoma Coast in particular. Hirsch has an excellent description on its website of how that vintage played out in their vineyards, needless to say the growing season was long and allowed excellent berry development.

As for vinification, the wine was fermented in barrel (15% new) with minimal lees stirring. The fermentation took about 12 months. It was then racked with the less in stainless steel for 4 months before bottling. This latter technique was learned from the famous Meursault producer Roulot.

This 2012 is totally unlike any Chardonnay I’ve had from California. It is vibrant and highly driven by citrus, stone and mineral. Even more complex notes arise with some air: chalk, chamomile blossom, and extreme salinity – almost like a mouthful of ocean water. The wine is focused rather than expansive. The subtle use of oak allows the distinctive fruit to truly sing. And that’s what’s particularly amazing about this wine. The Vineyard speaks. Clearly there is serious terroir to the Chardonnay. With enough experience I have no doubt that great tasters could place the Hirsch Vineyard in particular. It is this incredible sense of place that makes this Chardonnay the most exciting of the entire spotlight. It is also in the top 3 new world Chardonays I’ve had.


$60 at K&L San Francisco


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