Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013
Many wineries in California would describe themselves like this: “Our focus has always been on a lean, elegant old-world style.”
But there is only one winery that, year after year, decade after decade, has proven that their wines will stand the test of time and the changing of palates. That winery is Stony Hill, and this email is about their Chardonnay.
Directly translated, Le Montrachet means “Stony Hill”, which strikes the perfect chord for understanding what Fred and Eleanor McCrea created in the 1940s on Spring Mountain, Napa Valley, with Stony Hill.. Burgundy lovers through and through, the McCreas planted Chardonnay almost entirely. The first vintages completely sold out to friends and family, and I think it’s an amazing testament to their quality and winemaking style that by 1954, every single bottle was sold via private mail offering. Long before Napa’s prized $750 dollar cult Cabernets, Stony Hill was quietly producing Napa’s most exclusive wine.
The style of the wine has never changed. It is harvested at Burgundian levels of ripeness (13% alcohol), goes into 10-year-old neutral French oak, is racked off the lees, and malolactic fermentation is prevented. It is a style that Fred set in the early 1950s until his passing in 1977 and Mike Chelini, his assistant and protégé, continues to this day.
Clearly, I love this wine. And with wines I love, the “fruit salad” approach to tasting notes doesn’t settle well between my palate and brain. My tasting note would be that this wine has profound amounts of mouthfeel and flavor without being demanding. Like a flawless performance of the violin harmonics in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, it is utterly impressive without being loud or seeming to try at all.
Or, to bring it back down to earth, here’s the winery’s description:
“The 2013 Chardonnay crop didn’t equal the big 2012 vintage in size, but the quality of the grapes thrilled the team at Stony Hill. As always, the wine is pale straw in color and offers a big bouquet of green apples and a graceful hint of citrus. On the palate, you can detect the same fruit flavors of citrus and green apple with the added touch of earthiness, a chalky minerality from the site’s stony soils, which Stony Hill calls a wet stone quality. The mouthfeel is also great, a combination of crisp acidity which gives it bounce and a slightly forward richness for balance. All the evidence points to a long life ahead for this wine.”
To close, a couple of personal funny stories.
I visited the property in 2015. There, I met Sarah McCrea, granddaughter of Fred and Eleanor and now president of the winery. She served us a lovely lunch all from the estate’s gardens and I polished off three bottles of increasingly older-vintage Chardonnay. When I asked Sarah if she’d like to be represented in Wisconsin, she demurred.
Just before visiting Stony Hill, my tour group had been at Groth, in Oakville, talking with Michael Weis, the longstanding winemaker who has just retired. He said, “I was trying hard to go after the title of ‘longest winemaker at any Napa Valley property’ but I knew Mike Chelini was never going to retire at Stony Hill AND he had a three-year head start on me.”
To my understanding, this wine has never been offered in a retail setting before, nor has it ever been offered in Wisconsin. This is a wonderful Chardonnay. I know the discount isn’t as great as some of our other offers but hey, I’m lucky to get what I got. You should have some, too.