Classically beautiful. Alluringly perfumed. With pure fruit flavors and an elegant mouthfeel. For four decades, Far Niente Chardonnay has captivated palates and hearts. As we continue to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this timeless Napa Valley wine, winemaker Nicole Marchesi weighs in on what it takes to grow and craft a Napa Valley icon.
Forty classic vintages. What is the core to Far Niente Chardonnay?
“The core to what we’re working with is our Napa Valley vineyards, especially our vineyards in Coombsville – and they’re phenomenal. As a winemaker, our goal is to capture what’s special about each vineyard and incorporate them into the final blend. Of course, we have to do that without losing the overarching style that we’ve come to expect from Far Niente Chardonnay.”
And what is that style?
“Elegantly perfumed, with a round palate, full fruit flavors and a creamy silkiness to the texture. Also, balanced, with lifted acidity that’s juicy without being too heavy, refreshing traces of minerality and a finish that doesn’t diminish. Specific aromas and flavors vary with each vintage, though notes of honeysuckle and citrus zest and stone fruit and melon flavors, along with soft toasted oak, are pretty consistent year to year.”
So how do you capture the magic, or essence, of your vineyards?
“One of the things that I really enjoy about making Chardonnay are the many opportunities along the way to guide style and capture the “essence” of our vineyards. First, we are agile with our pick decisions. Every growing season is different and I’ve found that I make better decisions when I allow for adaptation to the season; we choose to pick based on what a particular year is offering us in terms of acidity, sugars, and flavor development, not a predetermined set of parameters. Second, we ask a LOT of questions, from the way we process and press our fruit to the vessels we use for fermentations and aging. We de-stem a large portion of our Chardonnay fruit when many others don’t, yet with every vintage, we ask ourselves, do we want to experiment with more whole cluster fermentations than the previous year? Will it dilute or enhance the quality? How much new oak can we use so that it supports the wine, lends it texture and nuance, without overwhelming the natural beauty of our fruit?
Every year, we pull small lots of fruit and wine aside for custom trials, whether it’s trying a new tank, testing a new barrel cooper or adjusting the way we ferment. The adjustment to one small lot might inform a bigger decision for the following year. Some results work for only for a specific vintage. But those that hold true year after year get incorporated into our overall winemaking plan or style.
Can you give us an example of an experiment that held true?
Several years ago, nature and circumstance forced us to do some tank fermentations, instead of barrel fermentations, in a small number of lots. We found, however, that we really liked it. We tried a little more the next year. And, again, we liked it! Now we incorporate a few lots into every vintage because it consistently improves the overall quality of the wine.
What’s that saying about rules? You first need to know the rules, in order to break them well? It’s the same with winemaking. We have a plan in place, but then the vintage tells us when we need to shift our plan.
Of course, having a lot of incredible tools and a team with the bandwidth to try a few different things certainly helps!”
Tell us about your team.
“I started at Far Niente as an enologist in 2005. Then assistant winemaker. Then winemaker. I’ve been with Far Niente for 16 years, and I’ve worked with my core team for most of them. Javier, our Cellar Master, and Jose one of our Cellar Supervisors, have both been with us over 20 years. Miguel’s hitting his 17th or 18th vintage. Eduardo has been with us for 15.
We have such a solid core of people, and I have built incredible trust among our team. I don’t have to micromanage because I know we all take such pride in our work and always put wine quality first.. And when mistakes are made, we manage and problem-solve together as a team because we’ve been working together so long.
While I’ve lost a few of cellar crew members at times, it’s nearly always been because they had the opportunity to take on a different role at one of our other wineries. So they’re still a part of our team in so many ways. I know the palate of each of these guys, down to the flavor profiles of their birthday cake!”
You’ve crafted sixteen vintages of Napa Valley Chardonnay! Do you have any favorites?
“Definitely the 2009 – that was the first wine that I owned from start to finish. The vintage was cool and late, which was really, really good for white wine. And that 2009 Far Niente Chardonnay was refreshing, with an oily texture that winemakers strive for.
The 2011 vintage was such a hard year, but that was the year I discovered you can pick at lower sugars. The 2011 had structure, freshness and elegance and it was that vintage that led me to adjust my thinking about what ripeness meant for Far Niente’s style. As I began to seek out more acidity and balance in the vineyard, I started to adjust my picking decisions in riper, warmer years, too.
And, honestly, the 2019 Far Niente Chardonnay also makes my top three. It has this incredible balance of tropical and mineral notes, and texturally, I’m delighted with how silky it is, with nuanced oak that is supportive without being in your face.
It’s just so, so … good.”
Want to learn more about our 40th anniversary Chardonnay? Join us in celebrating this exciting winemaking milestone here. You’ll find special Napa Valley wine tasting experiences at our Oakville Estate, a Hosted at Home Happy Hour featuring Proprietress Beth Nickel, exclusive Chardonnay recipes and more.
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