Chardonnay Sonoma Cutrer, 1981. Sequoia Grove| Vintage Wine History and Information

by Paul Kalemkiarian Sr |  June 1984

The Allen family produced our white wine selection this month. Three generations of Aliens live and work at the winery which they put together in 1980. They used an old 1860 redwood barn and remod­eled it themselves.

This is a true family effort. Jim Allen is winemaker and general manager. Steve Allen is vineyard manager. Barbara Allen (Jim’s wife) is treasurer. Olive Ann Allen, affectionately known as ‘Granny” is in charge of special projects. Dan Allen, son of Jim and Barbara, and Steve Jr., son of Steve, complete the crew. With production under 9000 cases a year, it takes a family effort like this to stay and succeed in the wine business today.

Jim’s first interest in wine developed while he was studying philosophy at the University of Innsbruck. Back in the United States, the wine path led him to Napa Valley, where in 1978, he purchased 24 acres near Rutherford. He phoned his brother Steve, who decided to join him and grow grapes instead of remodeling Victorian homes. Don’t label them upstarts till you taste their wine! They know what they are doing.

They invent machinery, instead of paying through the nose for fancy equipment. “We just outfitted our stemmer-crusher with a must pump. Now a good must pump starts around $5000” says Jim. “We built ours for $50 in parts and our own labor. It works fine. And we’d rather continue to pitchfork grapes than put out $30,000 for a stain­less steel hopper.” Steve added: “We’ll build ourselves a hopper one of these days, but we’ll do it with materials we’ve scrounged over the years, and we’ll do it for less than a thousand bucks.”

The brand name on the label is Sequoia Grove because there is one reputed to be over 200 years old in their vineyards. However, they have chosen to name the winery after their family name. With such a team working, it certainly is very appropriate.

I like to refer to a chardon­nay as a “dinner wine”. (If you want to have it with lunch, that is o.k. with me!) What I am really saying is that it is a food wine. Young or aged, it is the premier white wine with food. It’s French heritage is noble. The legendary white wines from Burgundy are 10096 Chardonnay. The California contributions have become equally revered. The French are sitting up and taking notice. At the price of this month’s selection, the French better do so. In fact I think a few of our California wineries that have been releasing their chardonnays at prices we are not used to seeing should also take notice. This Sonoma-Cutrer vineyard version of Sequoia Grove chardonnay is among the best, and still at a sensible price. (The Allen family also make a Napa and an Estate chardonnay.)

The wine is a golden color. It has an oak/vanillin bouquet, with the fruit aroma of the chardonnay grape showing through. Intense pleasant sniffing. The taste is very varietal, long on the fruit. In the middle it turns to a buttery softness, but eventually finishes with a clean crispness. Full body. Serve chilled with fish courses. My favorite would be poached fish. (Use it to poach with.) Excellent with chicken and turkey too.

Cellaring Notes: Will develop complexities for 3 to 5 years.

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