Steele Chardonnay, Parmelee Hill Vineyard

The 2018 Steele Chardonnay, Parmelee Hill Vineyard, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley has all the character of one of the most recognized and popular Chardonnays in Sonoma…because they “Steele” their grapes.

The Featured Wine Pairing Of Episode 78: Pairs with Girl Scout Cookies and Wine

Steele Chardonnay, Parmelee Hill Vineyard

Parmelee Hill Vineyard

See those words “Parmelee Hill” Vineyard on the label? You know who else proudly displayed those two words on their Chardonnay?

The one and only Kistler.

Today you can get a Chardonnay that flashes a similar style, from the same vineyard Kistler uses, made by a talented winemaker, for an absolute steal. Or should we say Steele?

This isn’t quite Kistler Chardonnay, but it seriously over delivers for the price.

Steele Chardonnay’s roots In Stony Hill

The 2018 Steele Chardonnay comes to us from Jed Steele. Jed has been making wine since 1968, when he kicked things off at Stony Hill Vineyard in Napa, where he crafted some of the most age-worthy whites in the history of California winemaking. When you do something consistently for 50-plus years, you get pretty darn good at it. Of course, it helps when you are also the head winemaker for Kendall-Jackson and have access to some of the best fruit in the region. Jed is intimately connected with Sonoma Valley, having farmed all over it for over 30 years. That includes the famous Durell Vineyard and Parmelee Hill Vineyard just adjacent to it.

Fifty years sounds like an eternity; winemaker Jed Steele feels like he’s just getting started. In some ways, it’s because every growing year is different. Even though a winemaker tries to pick his grapes at the same ripeness levels every year, ferments with the same yeast strain, and ages in the same barrels, the finished wine always tastes a little different from the previous year. Since wine is never the best it can be, winemakers like Jed continue to reach for the brass ring.

“Like many winemakers, I started in the cellar,” Steele says. “That was in 1968 at Stony Hill in the Napa Valley. After I earned my enology degree at UC Davis, I ended up at Edmeades in the Anderson Valley, then started Kendall-Jackson in Lake County.”

Winemaker Jed Steele’s Chardonnay Process

Winemaker Jed Steele describes his process as such: “All of our single vineyard-designated Chardonnays are 100% barrel fermented in French oak. We use 30% new barrels each vintage and the wines are in barrel for 10-12 months. The wines are then bottled without tight filtration. These wines may show a slight haze, but this is merely a mark of gentle handling. These Chardonnays should age for ten years or more.”

Jed has always had an inventive and slightly rebellious spirit in wine making. In 1980, Jed produced the first red Rhone blend in California, made from Mendocino Grenache, Petite Sirah and Carignane. He called it Côte De Mendocino. The concept baffled the legal authorities so much that they would not approve the label and the wine had to be sold only in California.

What is most likely considered Jed’s grandest coup in wine, while working at Kendall-Jackson Winery, Jed developed the concept and style of the Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay. Which to this days remains as the most popular Chardonnay in the history of California wine.

The benefit of having been in the wine industry for so long is that you get a lot of experience with grape growers and vineyards across the state. “I’ve made wine from just about every wine region in California, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino. We consistently draw on some of the finest vineyards in California.”

The 2018 Steele Chardonnay is for all you Chardonnay insiders, geeks, and aficionados. At the release price of $38, it was a solid deal. At the Wine Spies price – HALF OFF – it’s a total, complete, utter no brainer.

Steele Chardonnay Tasting Profile

Look:A bright shade of yellow gold with vibrant streaks of honey and hay
Smell:Citrusy and tropical with Meyer lemon, passion fruit, honeydew, nectarine, and nutmeg
Taste:Bright acidity, medium-plus weight, and a kiss of butterscotch, framed by roasted nuts
Finish:Crazy long, complex, and rich with an upside of ten plus years or more?
Wine Pairing:Ideal with lemon veal scaloppini drenched in a creamy mushroom sauce

Wine Details From Steele Winery

VARIETAL100% Chardonnay
APPELLATIONSonoma Valley, Sonoma County
VINEYARDParmelee Hill Vineyard
VINE AGE30 years average
YIELDS3 tons/acre
AGING12 months
BARRELS30% new French oak

Lake County, the home of Steele chardonnay

The Steele Winery is deeply rooted in Lake County. Located directly north of Napa County and directly east of Mendocino County. Lake County is one of the most rural, least populated and developed of the North Coast’s grape growing regions. The county supports 32 wineries and 8,800 acres of wine grapes, compared to 16,700 in Mendocino, 45,000 in Napa and 60,000 in Sonoma.

Lake County is a mountainous region with a base elevation of around 1,350 feet and some of the vineyards we source grapes are as high as 2,700 feet. Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California, dominates Lake County’s geography. On the south side of the lake, the extinct volcano Mt. Konocti rises to 4,500 feet and supports numerous vineyards.

Chardonnay history in Lake County

Steeped in unique wine country history, Lake County was part of Napa County until 1861 and had a thriving grape and wine industry at the turn of the century. Chaqrdonnays made from Lake County grapes won numerous medals and awards at national and international fairs and expositions in the early 1900s.

Just like in other grape growing areas, Prohibition sounded a death knell for the vineyards and wineries of Lake County. While grape growing continued in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties supplied the enormous number of home winemakers during prohibition, Lake County’s isolation and the fact that it lacked railroad access caused most vineyards and wineries to fail. Because of this, most of the vineyards were ripped out and replanted with walnut and pear orchards.

The post-prohibition revival of grape growing in the County began in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until around 2000 that the rapid expansion of the wine business in Lake County began. Some of the great appellations from Lake County you may recognize are Benmore Valley, Big Valley, Clear Lake, Guenoc Valley, High Valley, Red Hills and the new Kelsey Bench AVA.

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