It’s a common misconception that white white doesn’t age in the same way as cabernets. One wine continuing to prove that idea wrong is Far Niente Winery’s iconic chardonnay. This notable Napa Valley winery is celebrating the 40th vintage of its iconic Far Niente Chardonnay.
Far Niente produced this inaugural Chardonnay from the 1979 vintage, sixty years after prohibition forced the original stone winery in Oakville to shut. As the winery’s first wine in the modern era, it set the benchmark for top notch chardonnay shortly after the famous Judgement of Paris tasting. The 2019 vintage embodies Far Niente’s mission of creating a singular expression of estate-driven and cellar worthy Napa Valley Chardonnay.
“The goal from the very beginning was to produce one of the world’s great Chardonnays, a wine that is both timeless and enjoyable to drink,” explains Proprietress Beth Nickel. “Our vision was to keep improving the Chardonnay each vintage, crafting a harmonious style of wine that had it all, while remaining true to our core values and principals. This year we released the 2019 vintage of our Chardonnay celebrating 40 years of exceptional winemaking.”
At the helm of this iconic estate is winemaker Nicole Marchesi. She is only the fourth winemaker in Far Niente’s long history, having joined the winery in 2005 as an enologist. We chatted with winemaker Nicole Marchesi and Proprietress Beth Nickel to talk more about the winery and its famous chardonnay.
What are the distinguishing characteristics of Far Niente Chardonnay?
Nicole: At Far Niente we focus on a single Chardonnay from exceptional Napa Valley vineyards. Every vintage we craft a blend that reflects our “house style” – one that seamlessly balances grace, elegance, depth and length. Every vintage should be unique but also distinctly Far Niente. Aromas often include citrus, honeydew melon, white floral and light touches of toasted oak.
On the palate, our Chardonnay has richness and depth with great viscosity that builds on the palate; a nice clip of acidity on the back end brings It back together with a refreshing finish. Striking that balance between rich and refreshing is a hallmark of Far Niente and also results In a Napa Valley Chardonnay that is not only delicious upon release but has the ability to age for years in the bottle.
What do you attribute this luxury chardonnay’s staying power to?
Nicole: We take the best that the vineyards offer us each vintage to achieve the beautiful structure and distinctive style that defines our Napa Valley Chardonnay. It all starts in the vineyard; growing a variety of clones in the cooler AVAs like Coombsville and Carneros sets us up with excellent raw material.
In the cellar, we employ myriad techniques such as hand sorting clusters, barrel fermenting In French oak, batonnage stirring and blocking malolactic fermentation to craft our wine. These factors along with our consistent pursuit of excellence has enabled us to craft an ageable Chardonnay that is both rich, refreshing and nuanced.
Has the wine or wine-making techniques evolved at all through the vintages?
Nicole: We are incredibly fortunate to have such an experienced and knowledgeable team working at Far Niente. Not only is there a consistency of vineyard sourcing and techniques but also a consistency of people, which is really important for an enduring brand. At the same time, there is also a culture of curiosity at the winery that allows for changes.
We are constantly trialing new techniques and always asking ourselves “how can we do things better?” In July, we acquired a 133-acre vineyard in the Carneros AVA of the Napa Valley, much of which is planted to Chardonnay. Our vineyard and winery teams are both excited for this opportunity to improve on our ability to produce wines with the depth, elegance and complexity that we are known for.
Talk a little bit about the history of this Chard and why you think people love it so much. Why has it become so iconic?
Beth: My husband, Gil, and I decided to move to California in the late 1970s with the dream of establishing a world class wine estate. While searching for a property we stumbled upon an abandoned stone winery in Oakville with the name Far Niente carved in stone on the front of the building. We produced our first Chardonnay in 1979, and harvested our first grapes from the Oakville estate in 1982.
Since the very first vintage we have strived to make the highest quality Chardonnay possible, producing a wine with classic proportions of structure, elegance, texture and length. Far Niente’s Chardonnay is widely recognized by critics and collectors as one of the most consistently excellent wines each vintage, and a benchmark for Napa Valley Chardonnay.
What are the best things to eat with the wine?
Nicole: The 2019 Chardonnay is rich, refreshing and nuanced making it an excellent wine to pair with a variety of different foods and recipes. The Chardonnay’s creamy texture and citrus notes are a hit with rosemary and garlic roasted chicken or a decadent Dungeness crab and avocado roll, and it’s a match made in heaven with pan-seared lemon butter Halibut with purple potatoes and charred spring onions.