July 14, 2016 – If winemaker Ryan Beauregard has his druthers, he’ll soon have a brand new chardonnay vineyard next to the already thriving Coast Grade pinot noir that was planted in 2008. The land is all cleared and ready to go: seven more acres of the yet to be determined varietal await their fate.
It’s a pretty steep grade, way steeper than where the pinot is planted, and it gets a decidedly stiff breeze off the nearby ocean. It looks like an ideal spot for chardonnay. It might even be dicey for pinot. The trick with chard is that you can crop it pretty heavy and it still delivers gobs of gorgeous flavor, while pinot has to be cropped way back in order to shine. That alone might tip the scales in favor of chardonnay.
But, says Ryan, it’s really up to his dad. You see, his father, Jim, is the vineyard owner and viticulturist, while Ryan, who has been Beauregard’s official winemaker since 2000, is the winery guy. If it is pinot noir, it would become, at 27 total acres, the largest pinot vineyard in the AVA.
“I’ve got plenty of pinot,” says Ryan. “What I need is chardonnay.” His father favors planting more pinot, which he knows he can sell. But chardonnay is truly a stellar performer, and it sure does make an excellent candidate for different styles.
Ryan, like many others in the Santa Cruz Mountains, believes that the region’s chardonnay is its true reigning monarch. Yes, this may be pinot paradise, but it is also a prime spot for chardonnay. Beauregard is quick to point out that the number one chardonnay in the world for 2015, according to Wine Spectator, was 2012 Mount Eden Estate.
Ryan’s current obsession with regard to chardonnay is chablis. He’s been increasingly influenced by his friend, Mark Bright, a sommelier who owns Saison in San Francisco, and whose brand Partage is made at the Beauregard facility using fruit from Ben Lomond Mountain, Bald Mountain and Coast Grade vineyards. Bright’s keen love of burgundy, combined with his unfettered access to the finest examples of such, have fostered in Ryan an even deeper appreciation for the finer points of classic French-style chardonnays and pinots.
Tasting the three examples of Ryan’s 2015 chardonnays, all resting in tank prior to bottling, you are struck by the extreme purity of the fruit. In all three cases, the wines are completely unmasked by any new oak. Ryan’s increasingly fond of puncheons (larger format barrels) for aging chard and is considering concrete eggs.
The 2015 Bald Mountain Chardonnay comes across minerally and filled with grapefruit pith, almost more like a sauvignon blanc, while the Beauregard Estate exhibits lovely pear and pineapple notes, with a distinctive linearity and lime on the finish.
Of the three, the Zayante Chardonnay, exhibits gorgeous aromatics of Kefir lime and peach blossom, and a panoply of flavors that run to peach and white nectarine. It’s absolute music on the palate.
Ryan’s been at the winemaking thing for 18 years now, and has surfed every winemaking trend that has come along: some more swell than others. The current swell he’s surfing is that of minimalism. Less is more: less oak, less handling and less filtration. In fact, none. This surprises me, but Ryan insists he’s done with stripping the guts out of the wine.
We grab a sample of the 2014 Coast Grade Pinot that is cold settling in a huge tank. It flies at your palate like a rocket ship, with much more grip and focus than the 2013, which is a superb wine. Ryan believes this to be a more natural approach.
This is the same philosophy that guides his Méthode Champenoise project, the other current obsession. He’s invested in all the equipment to do the sparkling entirely in-house. At great expense, he even imported riddling racks from Epernay and enjoys the simple, but time-consuming task of giving each bottle a quarter turn every other day.
Ryan’s most powerful secret weapon on this effort is assistant winemaker Megan Bell, who has a clear grasp of what Ryan is after and most importantly, she stays after him. Educated at Davis, with cellar work in Livermore, Sonoma and New Zealand, she’s got great winemaking chops. She pretty much takes care of all the racking and riddling needed to produce the two sparklers that will be released later in July. If she works steadily without interruption, she can disgorge, cork and capsule about 180 bottles per day.
Fittingly, both sparklers are done in the natural method, meaning the wine is not dosaged after disgorging. Instead, each bottle is topped up with an opened bottle of itself before the capsule and cage are inserted, using the simple but powerful device they purchased from those clever Swiss. An Italian chiller is used to freeze the necks, collecting the yeast solids that have settled out after secondary fermentation.
There is nothing quite like that first sip of a pure 100% Chardonnay Méthode Champenoise. The 2013 Beauregard Blanc de Blanc is crisp, just ripe apples with a smack of quince. It evanesces as gracefully as a swan, gliding onto and over your palate with a kiss of tiny bubbles.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.