Dinner with Geyser Peak Winemaker Ondine Chattan
Geyser Peak Winery is a long-standing and well-known producer in California’s Sonoma County. While they make more than 300,000 cases of wine per year, almost two- thirds of that is a single wine. Much of the rest of their portfolio is filled with small lot offerings that focus on fruit from specific areas. I recently sat down with their winemaker Ondine Chattan at Gramercy Tavern in New York City to taste through a wide selection of their wines, including quite a few of the boutique-like offerings that are part of Geyser Peak’s renewed focus. Speaking with Chattan throughout the evening, it was clear that the effort and attention to detail that goes into the wines that retail for just $12 or so is every bit as significant as that which goes into the ones at around $50. It’s also apparent that she and the winery are equally proud of both as well. Here’s a look at a handful of my favorite current releases from Geyser Peak Winery.
Geyser Peak Winery 2013 California Sauvignon Blanc — The fruit for this wine was sourced in a number of different regions throughout Northern California. It’s largely sauvignon blanc (97 percent), with a bit if viognier (3 percent) blended in. Fermentation took place in stainless steel. 190,000 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $12. Lemon and orange zest aromas come charging out of this wine’s nose. The palate is round and mellifluous with tropical and citrus fruit characteristics in abundance throughout. Gentle wisps of green herb emerge and the fruity flavors continue through a crisp finish. At $12 (less if you shop around) this is an absolutely killer value that will work well as an everyday white all year long. To maintain the freshness of this wine they bottle it numerous times a year, from a master blend, as supply demands.
Geyser Peak Winery 2013 California Pinot Grigio — The fruit for this offering came from several regions including Dry Creek Valley, Solano, and Mendocino. In addition to pinot grigio (87 percent), some gewürztraminer (13 percent) was blended in. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel tanks. 15,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $12. Lychee fruit and citrus zest aromas light up the nose of this Pinot grigio. Pineapple and stone fruit flavors dominate the palate which is soft, lush, and pleasing in nature. Lemon and lime zest as well as white pepper and bits of limestone dot the clean and crisp finish here. This wine works equally well all by itself as it does paired with lighter foods.
Geyser Peak Winery 2012 River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc — This wine is 100 percent sauvignon blanc sourced in Russian River Valley. Fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel. 796 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $22. Green melon aromas, punctuated by hints of linseed oil, dominate the nose. Tart green apple, lemon zest, and white fig flavors are all abundant on a palate that is a bit more austere than the California appellation sauvignon blanc. Essence of lime and a touch of pleasing green herb are part of the above average finish. This sauvignon blanc shines when paired with light foods.
Geyser Peak Winery 2012 Water Bend Chardonnay — The fruit for this chardonnay was grown in Alexander Valley. In addition to chardonnay (97 percent), a small amount of viognier (3 percent) was blended in. Aging took place over the course of 11 months in entirely French oak, 25 percent of the barrels utilized were new. Just over 1,700 cases were produced at a suggested retail price of $22. Apple and Anjou pear aromas emerge with conviction from the welcoming nose of this chardonnay. The palate is fruity and round with a firm backbone of acid supporting things. This includes orchard fruit flavors supported by apple pie spice elements. Minerals, toast, and continued spice characteristics are all in evidence on the even keeled and memorable finish. This will work remarkably well with roast pork dishes, particularly those with some sort of accompanying fruit compote.
Geyser Peak Winery 2011 Tectonic Red Wine Blend — This wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon (69 percent), petit verdot (15 percent), and the balance is made up of other reds, all of it from Alexander Valley. Aging took place in French oak for 21 months. 3,500 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $28. Red berry and spice aromas fill the nose of this blended Alexander Valley wine. Raspberry and earth characteristics dominate the palate which is full, rich, and precise. Velvety red fruits, interspersed with black fruit flavors emerge on the finish along with chicory and a hint of cocoa. This is a proportionate red blend that offers far more value and flavor than the price would suggest.
Geyser Peak Winery 2011 Devil’s Inkstand — This wine blends together cabernet sauvignon (69 percent), with petit verdot (15 percent), and smaller amounts of malbec and petite sirah. After fermentation, it spent 22 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent of which were new. A mere 350 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $50. Black mission fig aromas and wisps of toasty oak dot the nose of this blend. The palate is loaded with a complex mélange of fruits and spices. Both red and black fruits come together along with bits of plum pudding spices and touches of burnt brown sugar. Plenty of earth and continued fruit flavors mark the long, proportionate, and elegant finish. This is an excellent red blend that exudes depth and class. Devil’s Inkstand is a wine worthy of a special occasion.
What stands out to me about the Geyser Peak wines I tasted is the relative value they represent at their respective price-points. The California appellation offerings which sell for around $12 are terrific everyday offerings. There are plenty of wines in that range and the quality, of course, varies. These two are delicious, well made, and dependably appropriate selections to keep on hand for casual drinking with day to day life. The higher end offerings are also well made wines, representing particular parts of Sonoma County quite nicely. These are more specific wines, worth contemplating over an evening with friends and a fine meal. In both cases you’re getting really good quality for the price category. Chattan has been at Geyser Peak Winery for 14 years, in her time as head winemaker she has made numerous positive changes and improvements. It’ll be fascinating to see what she has in store going forward.