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by Fred McMillin
for February 9, 1998
"Chalk is a soft and crumbly, highly porous type of pure white limestone. Chalk soils are valued in viticulture for their excellent drainage."...J.M.H. in "The Oxford Companion to Wine"
"Chalk Hill derives its name from the strata of light-colored soil covering much of the land."...Frederick P. Furth, Proprietor of Chalk Hill Winery
"We knew Chalk Hill Chardonnay had become a world-class wine when we sold out the 1990 in eight months."...Diana Burnett, Marketing Manager of Chalk Hill at that time.
The Rest of the Story
So the secret of Chalk Hill's Chardonnay success is that layer of white limestone soil. Right? WRONG! Although that soil is white and DOES provide good drainage, it is NOT chalk...it is NOT limestone. A cooperating volcano laid down a thick layer of white ash that two million years later gave the area its name.
1995 Chardonnay, Appellation—Chalk Hill
Chalk Hill Winery, Sonoma County
Founding—San Francisco lawyer Furth bought the land at the east end of the Russian River Valley in 1972 and two years later started planting, including what today includes 136 acres of that prestigious Chardonnay.
Founding of the Winery—Fred sold his first harvest in September of 1977. He quickly noted that half the money he was owed didn't arrive until the following February, and the other half in June. It was right then that Fred decided to build his own winery.
Contact—Executive V.P. Marketing Jean Arnold,
Numbers—100% Chardonnay, 100% barrel fermented, 100% natural yeasts, 100% malolactic fermentation, 100% delicious.
You'll notice there's nothing simple about this Chardonnay. That's because they have SEVENTEEN clones of Chardonnay planted on EIGHTEEN parcels of land, and each are made into wine separately before blending. There is, however, one drawback. Sometimes a batch or two does not meet their standards and are sold to others. In fact, about ten years ago, when they were learning fast about their various clones and microclimates, they sold off 20% of that Chardonnay vintage, which made the bean counters very unhappy...the cost of quality.
About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.
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