Wine of the week: Sea Smoke 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay

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THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Knockout Chardonnays

TOP PICK

Sea Smoke 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay, 14.9% alcohol, $60. ★★★★1/2: This is a drop-dead gorgeous chardonnay –– complex and lush. Aromas and flavors of apple, melon and honeysuckle. There’s a nice yin-yang balance with notes of decadent creme brulee and refreshing mineral. Lingering finish makes it a rock star.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Dry Creek Vineyard, 2017 Dry Creek Vineyard Estate Block 10 Chardonnay, 14.1%, $34. ★★★★: An elegant chardonnay with layered flavors of ripe apple, lime and honeysuckle. Great structure –– bones –– and a round texture. Nice length. Smart.

Stony Hill Vineyard, 2016 Chardonnay, 13%, $54. ★★★★: Crisp and savory, this is a striking chardonnay. What makes it a standout is its intense minerality. It has layered notes of green apple and herbs. The Stony Hill is balanced and finishes crisp. Just lovely.

Pellegrini, 2016 Unoaked Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.2%, $25. ★★★1/2: A refreshing chardonnay with crisp apple taking center stage. On backup –– peach, mango and mineral. Pretty.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, 2016 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, 13.5%, $15. ★★★1/2: A smart chardonnay with layered flavors of apple, citrus and spice. Lightly toasted. Approachable. Solid.

Harvest can be brutal, with days that run into nights, creating a blur that brings new meaning to Einstein’s theory of relativity and challenging everything we know about time and space.

It was this kind of crazy-making crush when Don Schroeder, then 20, discovered his own theory of relativity: enthusiasm powers one’s mettle.

“I fell in love with making wine on the first day of my first harvest at Babcock Winery in Sta. Rita Hills,” explained Schroeder. “After a long day of cleaning equipment, pounding hoops on barrels and processing grapes, when I got home I was so tired, but I couldn’t stop thinking about going back the next day and doing it all over again.”

Schroeder, now 39, is behind our wine of the week winner –– the Sea Smoke 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay at $60. This is a drop-dead gorgeous chardonnay –– complex and lush with aromas and flavors of apple, melon and honeysuckle.

There’s a nice yin-yang balance with notes of decadent crème brulée and refreshing mineral. The striking chardonnay also has a lingering finish; it’s a rock star.

“Chardonnay has often been an afterthought and produced with a heavy hand, leaving a final wine where the components are out of balance (e.g. barrel, ripeness, palate weight),” Schroeder said.

“Chardonnay has great potential when the elegance of the grape is allowed to shine through, and the oily/yummy texture is preserved.”

Sea Smoke focuses on pinot noir (95 percent) and Schroeder said refining his craft on that delicate varietal has taught him restraint when working with chardonnay. The winemaker said the biodynamic farming also played a role in the wine’s profile.

“As we slowly transitioned the farming of our estate ranch to biodynamic, over the years we noticed an increase in aromatic complexity and a more focused palate with increased length,” Schroeder said.

The most challenging part of making wine is the countless decisions that have to be made and the waiting game that follows, he said.

“These are crucial decisions –– picking, processing, fermentation and barrel selection –– all while preserving the vineyard’s identity,” Schroeder said. “These decisions are made at the beginning of the wine’s life, and then we have to wait to watch it come together.

But the gratifying part is tasting the finished wine with our winemaking team and realizing we made the right decisions.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Knockout Chardonnays

TOP PICK

Sea Smoke 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay, 14.9% alcohol, $60. ★★★★1/2: This is a drop-dead gorgeous chardonnay –– complex and lush. Aromas and flavors of apple, melon and honeysuckle. There’s a nice yin-yang balance with notes of decadent creme brulee and refreshing mineral. Lingering finish makes it a rock star.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Dry Creek Vineyard, 2017 Dry Creek Vineyard Estate Block 10 Chardonnay, 14.1%, $34. ★★★★: An elegant chardonnay with layered flavors of ripe apple, lime and honeysuckle. Great structure –– bones –– and a round texture. Nice length. Smart.

Stony Hill Vineyard, 2016 Chardonnay, 13%, $54. ★★★★: Crisp and savory, this is a striking chardonnay. What makes it a standout is its intense minerality. It has layered notes of green apple and herbs. The Stony Hill is balanced and finishes crisp. Just lovely.

Pellegrini, 2016 Unoaked Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.2%, $25. ★★★1/2: A refreshing chardonnay with crisp apple taking center stage. On backup –– peach, mango and mineral. Pretty.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, 2016 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, 13.5%, $15. ★★★1/2: A smart chardonnay with layered flavors of apple, citrus and spice. Lightly toasted. Approachable. Solid.

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