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Great Chardonnay from the Ground Up
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 5, 2018
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Ten Acre Winery, Russian River Valley (California) Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard, 2015 ($55):

When I first reviewed a wine from Ten Acre Winery five years ago, I wrote that I plan to keep my eyes on this winery. It’s a fairly new operation, founded only in 2008, that specializes in making small-lot Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the grapes of respected growers in cool-climate sites in California.

Currently, their wines include Pinot Noirs from three growers in Russian River Valley and one in the Sonoma Coast AVA, with production of generally less than 300 cases per wine, as well as a Russian River and a Sonoma Coast Pinot that are not vineyard-specific. Ten Acre Winery’s Chardonnay production is similarly limited; it features two grower-specific Russian River Valley Chardonnays, one Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and a Santa Lucia Highlands (the wine that so impressed me five years ago), as well as a blended-source Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

One of the Russian River Valley Chardonnays is from Ritchie Vineyard, and it is impressive indeed. In terms of Chardonnay, it’s hard to find a grower more acclaimed than Kent Ritchie, whose Ritchie Vineyard sits in the middle of the Russian River Valley district, on slopes of Goldridge and volcanic ash soils. The vineyard boasts Wente Heritage clone Chardonnay vines planted in 1972 as well as vines from the same clone planted in 2004.

Ten Acre winemaker Michael Zardo makes the Ten Acre Winery Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay mainly (72 percent) from the old vines, which give tropical and stone fruit flavors and textural richness, but he also prizes the “fresh acid-driven minerality” that the younger vines contribute to the wine. This duality that Zardo describes is very much the experience that the wine delivers. The wine is amazingly rich but not heavy; its flavors are dramatic and obvious without skewing the wine toward excess.

The wine’s bright, rather deep lemon color is the first clue that this is not a simple, straightforward Chardonnay. Tropical fruit — melon and pineapple — might be the first aromas you notice when you smell the wine, followed by ripe apple, lemon zest, honeysuckle, hay, and a vanilla-butter-yeasty combo that winemaker Zardo labels as shortbread. In your mouth, the wine is full-bodied and rich in both flavor and texture. Apricot, peach and lemon are the key flavors; they mingle with sweet spices and toastiness from oak, but the fruit is what drives the flavor. The wine’s texture is creamy and unctuous, so much so that it’s odd to realize, when you shift your focus, how high the wine’s acidity is. That’s the duality of richness and freshness that the vineyard brings.

The winemaking is Burgundian, starting with whole cluster pressing of the fruit, then barrel fermentation in French oak (40 percent of it new), stirring of the lees, and nine months development in barrel after the long, slow, three-month fermentation. The outcome of course is far more overtly fruity than any Burgundy, and the oak is completely integrated into that dramatic fruit.

An ageability forecast seems ironic for a wine as delicious as this one is now. But that acidity holds promise. Winemaker Zardo suggests drinking this wine from now to 2024. Ten Acre Winery produced only 210 cases of this wine.

93 points