Thank you John Garczynski , Alexander Cornett, and Shelley Sharpe for your responses last week on Henri Jayer!
This week is another iconic winemaker -
Who is John Kongsgaard and what is his importance with regards to California Chardonnay?
Kongsgaard is the fifth generation of his family to live in Napa Valley. His Chardonnay is painstakingly made in a process described as the "death and resurrection" approach. He begins with grapes grown in vineyards with low nitrogen and low yields.
Once pressed, a very small amount of sulphur dioxide is used (30 ppm roughly), enough to keep the juice healthy but not enough for it to act as an antioxidant. The juice turns dark brown from exposure to oxygen and fermentation beings with ambient yeasts. Nothing else is added.
First comes the "death" portion of the process - fermentation takes up to a year, often malo lactic fermentation has completed before the primary fermentation. Barrels are stirred occasionally, but the wine generally grows murky and dull.
Then the "resurrection" portion - during the two years the wine is in barrel it bounces back--turning yellow and shedding it yeasty character. The resulting wines are rich and powerful. The wines are not overly oaky, despite spending two years in barrel. Kongsgaard notes, “the wood is on the horizon” or in the background. A big part of the reason is the intensity of the particular fruit he works with – it can certainly stand up to the oak. Another reason for this is the wine sits on the lees for the first year building weight but not woodiness.
The wine shows a richness and sweetness of fruit (totally dry) along with mineralities on the palate without being too heavy. The finish is surprising – the wine waits to make an impact with the fruit at the end rather than on the entry of the palate. This finish is lively, zesty and has great length; it is somewhat tropical along with lemon and lime notes.
Sources - Napa Wine Project, San Francisco Chronicle
Just in addition to Ms Sharpe's answer, John Kongsgaard had a significant impact on Napa viticulture. Because his winemaking practice relies on fermentation occuring without commerical yeast or preservative, fruit sourcing is of the utmost importance. When purchasing grapes with which to produce his famed Newton Chardonnay, Kongsgaard pioneered the concept of paying for grapes grown in line with his vision.
He is also a pioneer of pruning vines early so that his grapes are exposed to sunlight from the beginning of the growing season, which thickens the skins, producing grapes less vulnerable to weather variations.
Thanks for the addition! :)