All About Rhys Chardonnay!
While our newsletter often focuses on information about our Pinot Noirs, lately we have seen increasing interest in our Chardonnays. Given that, we thought it might be time to explain a bit about what makes the Rhys Chardonnays unique.
First and foremost, as with all great grapes, is site selection. Our vineyards have all been chosen for their unique combination of cool climate and rocky soil. A cool climate is a critical requirement for great Chardonnay as it prevents over-dominance of tropical fruit flavors, while allowing the stonier, more floral qualities to emerge. Additionally, cool temperatures preserve natural acidity and produce wines with more longevity. Specific geology is also crucial for high quality Chardonnay. While Chardonnay and Pinot Noir require similar soils to make great wine, we find that it is even more important for Chardonnay to be grown on a rocky soil. Even though the biological mechanism is not currently understood, it is clear that Chardonnay grown on rocky soils has more tension, focus and complexity. Meanwhile, the composition of the topsoil also plays a key role, as a clay topsoil will produce wines of more depth and power while a higher percentage of sand can add more mid-palate elegance.
On cursory examination, our Chardonnay winemaking might seem simplistic or “hands off” but it relies on absolutely impeccable organic grape growing. When the grapes arrive at the winery, they are gently pressed whole cluster with no destemming or crushing. After pressing the juice is allowed to settle overnight in order to remove the heavy sediment referred to as “gross lees”. The juice is then gravity fed to barrel and left in our cool cave where the temperature is a constant 56F. In order to minimize the influence of oak flavors, our barrels are made only from long seasoned, lightly toasted oak and only 10-20% of the barrels used are new.
Throughout the process, absolutely nothing is added to the must other than a small dose of sulphur for preservation. We allow the natural yeast and bacteria, specific to our vineyards and winery, to slowly convert the juice to wine. This natural “hands off” approach means that the fermentation moves slowly over 6 to 15 months while dozens of different strains of yeast and bacteria participate at different times. We find this complex natural process conducted by diverse microbes leads to Chardonnay with more complexity and site-specific character.
After this first year in barrel, the wine, along with the residual yeast from fermentation, is moved out of barrel and combined into large stainless steel tanks. Over the next 6 months in tank, it will naturally clarify and become increasingly focused. At bottling, our Chardonnays are neither fined nor filtered in order to present the full natural character of our sites in the bottle.
Although Alpine and Horseshoe vineyards are only a short distance apart, their wines couldn’t be more different. The 2016 Alpine Chardonnay is a classic example of the site, showcasing rich citrus notes and a broad midpalate with an energic, briny oyster shell character on the finish. As with most of our Chardonnay bottlings, this will continue to improve in the cellar for a decade or more, but will drink very well now with a bit of air. Meanwhile, the 2016 Horseshoe Chardonnay displays an all-together different array of aromatics and flavors. White flowers, jasmine and a flinty mineral notes are hallmarks of the vineyard, and the 2016 in particular shows great depth, drive and focus through the silky finish. This beauty can be enjoyed now or cellared for another decade.
2016 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The 2016 Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard is a stunning young wine that’s one of the best whites Rhys has produced to date. Opening up with vivid aromas of lemon oil, citrus pith, crisp apple and nutmeg, it’s fuller-bodied, glossier and more textural than the Horseshoe bottling, with a broader attack as well. But it’s also intensely saline and mineral, with wonderful concentration and intensity. Several years of patience will be rewarded by greater expressiveness and complexity, and I’d expect it to drink well for the better part of two decades thereafter. 96.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2018) The Rhys Vineyards’ bottling of chardonnay from the Alpine Vineyard is one of my very favorite white wine cuvées in all of California, and the 2016 vintage of this bottling is outstanding. The wine is another cool chard, coming in at 12.7 percent and offering up excellent aromatic refinement in its blend of pear, nectarine, fresh almond, a beautifully complex base of soil, spring flowers and a deft framing of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and nascently complex, with an excellent core of fruit, lovely mineral drive, bright acids and superb length and grip on the very classy finish. This is like a top flight Puligny premier cru with different minerality. 2018-2035+. 94.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2018) The 2016 Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard is fascinating to taste next to the Horseshoe, as it is quite a more tropical and generous in feel. Even so, there is quite a bit of energy running through the passionfruit, pineapple and yellow stone fruit. The Alpine will appeal more to readers who enjoy oily, textured Chardonnays. 95.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (February 2018) More rounded and elegant, the 2016 Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard offers beautiful notes of ripe orchard fruits, oyster shell, spice, and white flowers to go with an incredibly layered, seamless style on the palate. It’s more approachable than the Horseshoe Vineyard yet should age just about as long. 95.
2016 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The 2016 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard is aromatically extravagant, even at this early stage, bursting from the glass with notes of cinnamon, orange rind, nutmeg, cherries and raspberries. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, ample and multidimensional, with rich structuring tannins, succulent acids and lovely purity and precision, concluding with a fragrant, transparent finish. The 2016 was vinified with 33% whole cluster and matured in 45% new oak. A few days before my tasting with Brinkman and Harvey, I drank a bottle of the 2012 Alpine Pinot Noir from my own cellar, and the common thread of aromas and textures that connected the older vintage with the younger was striking testimony to the distinctiveness of this terroir. 95.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2018) The 2016 Alpine Vineyard from Rhys is a gorgeous pinot noir in the making. The superb nose jumps from the glass in a fine blend of black cherries, cassis, charred wood, cola, a fine base of Gevrey-like black minerality, incipient notes of beetroot and a discreet framing of cedary oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, complex and perfectly balanced, with a fine core, refined, moderate tannins, tangy acids and laser-like focus on the very long and very pure, dancing finish. This is still a fairly young wine, but it is going to be stunning when it is ready to drink. 2024-2060. 95.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2018) The 2016 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard is seamless in the way it floats on the palate. Bright and intensely perfumed, the Alpine is marked by its deeply-pitched aromatics and overall finesse, all of which give it a feeling of total sophistication. Today, I find the Alpine even more compelling than it was from barrel. Time in the glass brings out the wine’s silkiness and overall allure. Alpine was the lowest yielding site for Rhys in 2016. 95.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (February 2019) The 2016 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard is another head-turner and offers complex red fruits, white flowers, pepper, and floral notes as well as incredible balance and purity on the palate. About as seamless as they come, it’s medium to full-bodied, has a layered texture, and a great finish. As with most of these 2016s, it has some accessibility today, yet it’s going to age gracefully on its balance and overall harmony. 96.
2016 Rhys Swan Terrace Pinot Noir
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The supremely elegant 2016 Pinot Noir Swan Terrace—which was vinified with 100% whole cluster and matured in 20% new oak—was one of the high points of my tasting with winemaker Jeff Brinkman and proprietor Kevin Harvey. Bursting from the glass with an extravagant bouquet of wild plums, chocolate, licorice, rich soil, potpourri and spice, the wine is full-bodied, layered and expansive, with a velvety, even and plush attack, amazing mid-palate depth and dimension, stunning intensity and concentration and a long, perfumed and stony finish. As readers may know, the Swan Terrace is a small, east-facing parcel of Rhys’ Alpine Vineyard where the soils consist of chalky Purisima shale. 97.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2018) The 2016 Swan Terrace bottling from Rhys is also outstanding, and trying to select a favorite this year amongst this stellar lineup of pinot noir is virtually impossible. The bouquet here exudes purity of fruit and mineral precision as it delivers scents of cassis, black plums, a touch of gamebird, a great base of black minerality, espresso, a gentle framing of cedary wood and a topnote of bonfires. On the palate the wine is deep, full, complex and perfectly balanced, with moderate, buried tannins, great focus and grip and a very, very long, refined and intensely flavored finish. I love the backend lift here. 2026-2065. 95.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2018) The 2016 Pinot Noir Swan Terrace is another star in this range. Soaring aromatics and finely sculpted fruit are just two of the signatures in this sublime, utterly captivating Pinot Noir from Rhys. here, too, the 100% whole clusters are very nicely integrated. The Swan Terrace is a wine of regal sophistication and elegance. Don’t miss it! 96.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (February 2019) The 2016 Pinot Noir Swan Terrace comes from a small, east-facing portion of the Alpine Vineyard and more chalky soils. It saw plenty of stems and mostly neutral oak, and has a beautifully complex, nuanced style in its red and black fruits, forest floor, tapenade, and violet-tinged aromas and flavors. With subtle oak, a rich, layered texture, and medium to full body, it’s another brilliant, brilliant wine from this team that is going to deliver incredible amounts of pleasure over the coming 15+ years. 97.
2016 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Chardonnay
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2018) The 2016 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard is laced with the essence of citrus peel, mint and white flowers. In this range, the Horseshoe is all about tension and energy, all presented in a lifted style that is incredibly appealing. I very much like the vibrancy and focus here. 95.
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The 2016 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard offers up aromas of pear, grapefruit pith, iodine and fresh nutmeg. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, layered and powerful, with an elegantly textural attack and wonderful mid-palate amplitude underpinned by tangy acids, concluding with a long and stony finish. The overall impression is beautifully complete. Cellar this compelling Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay for a few years, and then follow it for the better part of a decade. 95+.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (February 2019) As always, the 2016 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard is the most masculine and mineral-driven, with an exotic bouquet of white flowers, iodine, crushed rocks, and stone fruits. Reductive, concentrated, and powerful on the palate, with medium to full-bodied richness, it’s a brilliant vintage from this vineyard and is a world-class Chardonnay in every way. It will keep for 10-15 years.96.
2016 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Pinot Noir
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) The 2016 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard takes some time to unwind in the glass, unfurling to reveal notes of strawberries, red cherries, rich spices, forest floor and subtle grilled meat. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, taut and youthfully firm, its bright core of concentrated fruit framed by chalky, fine-grained tannins. This is one of the most tightly coiled wines in the range and will require 5 or 6 years of patience. But when it shows all its cards, its precision and energy will be striking. 94.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2018) The 2016 Horseshoe Vineyard pinot noir is absolutely stellar. The wine is a cool customer, coming in at 12.5 percent octane and offering up a beautifully complex and classy bouquet of black cherries, dark berries, cola, beautiful spice tones, excellent minerality, a touch of cedar and a topnote of woodsmoke. On the palate the wine is deep, pure, full-bodied and already quite complex, with a sappy core, fine focus and grip, seamless tannins and a very long, focused and energetic finish. The mineral drive of all of these Santa Cruz Mountain pinots from Rhys is very impressive this year. 2022-2055+. 94+.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2018) Even better than it was from barrel, the 2016 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard is a flat-out stunner. Crazy, beautiful, deeply spiced aromatics literally explode from the glass. Broad and ample on the palate, with tremendous intensity, the Horseshoe has a lot to offer. Orange peel, mint and spice overtones add an exotic flair. This is an utterly captivating Pinot Noir from Rhys. 97.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (February 2019) The 2016 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard offers a more savory, mineral style as well as terrific depth of fruit. Lots of currant and black cherry fruits, ample rocky, earthy minerality, medium to full body, and a seamless texture all emerge from the glass. This classic Horseshoe Vineyard release has building structure that’s going to benefit from a few years in the cellar. 96.
Family Farm Vineyard
2016 Family Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir
Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media (August 2018) The 2016 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard is beautifully lifted and precise. Bright red berry fruit and floral notes are nicely layered in a Pinot that speaks to understatement and class. In this range, the Family Farm stands out for its crystalline precision and nuance. All the elements are simply in the right place. The 2016 was done with 15% stems, the least Rhys has used for the Family Farm. 94.
Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com (February 2019) Moving south toward the Santa Cruz Mountains, the 2016 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard offers a more elegant, medium-bodied, supple style as well as perfumed red fruit, dried flowers, and spice, with just a hint of minerality. This site has slightly more clay in the soils and the wine is always one of the more rounded and charming in the lineup. Nevertheless, I’ve no doubt it’s going to drink nicely for a decade. 94.
William Kelly, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (May 2018) Like the Bearwallow bottling, the 2016 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard is quite approachable this year, revealing youthfully reserved but already complex aromas of cherries, sweet soil, raw cocoa, forest floor and subtle peony. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied, layered and sappy, with velvety tannins and a juicy, mouthwatering finish. It was vinified with only 15% whole cluster this year. 92.
John Gilman, View From the Cellar (July – August 2018) Whenever I taste the single vineyard pinots from Rhys Vineyards, I always do them together, so that I can go back and forth between the various expressions of terroir in each wine. While this is a fascinating exercise for me, it is probably not all that fair to the two beautiful bottlings from San Mateo County, as they hail from terroir that is not as comfortably familiar as those from Anderson Valley or the Santa Cruz Mountains. Nevertheless, there is plenty of terroir in both the Family Farm and Home Vineyards bottlings, albeit, expressed quite differently than in the pinots from the other two regions. The 2016 Family Farm is a really lovely bottle of pinot noir, offering up a wide open and very classy nose of sweet dark berries, bitter chocolate, a touch of pigeon, woodsmoke and a lovely base of dark soil tones. On the palate the wine is pure, fullbodied and generous on the attack, with a fine signature of soil, a good core, moderate tannins and lovely length and grip on they bouncy and complex finish. This svelte bottling comes in at 12.6 percent octane this year and is just lovely. 2018-2045. 92+.