photo from www.mdc.wine/

Maître de Chai - Masters of Soil and Cellar

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My first experience with Maître de Chai was at an overwhelmingly large walk-around tasting, where their wines' precision and expressiveness made me take notice. After having the pleasure of meeting the winemakers, Marty Winters and Alex Pitt, I knew I had to champion their cause. Established in 2012, their mission was to create wines that showcased a sense of place and challenge the notion that California wines could only ever be sun-drenched and over-worked. Marty and Alex were inspired by a pioneering generation of California winemakers of the 1960's and 70's, who themselves were inspired by the terroir-driven wines of the Old World. This motivation led them to seek out distinctive vineyard sites, mainly centered around Sonoma Mountain and the Sierra Nevada foothills, all of which, with the exception of their Chenin Blanc sourced from two sites, are bottled as single-vineyard wines. 

The wines of Maître de Chai show a distinct lack of ego; unfussed with, pure, and site-specific. The name of their winery translates to "cellar-master", but speaking to these two, it's clear that their work is mainly being done in the vineyard. They do not believe in using any additives (other than a minimal amount of SO2), all of their wines are made with indigenous yeasts, and none of them are made using new oak. All of their farmers are working organically (with the Stampede Vineyard in conversion to organics), employ little to no irrigation, and some have even stopped tilling. The health of the soil and the surrounding environment is extremely important to them, as they believe it is the best chance of getting the full potential from the fruit and their wines. 

Although there is a trend among young winemakers to plant obscure varietals, Marty and Alex prefer to stick to the classics; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Zinfandel. These grapes have a great potential to showcase their vineyards, and older, own-rooted plantings of these variets are more prevalent in California. Their Sauvignon Blanc comes from Herron Vineyard; a beautiful, grass-covered, organically farmed site that was planted in 1969 on Sonoma Mountain by the then 18 year-old Rudy Rodriguez. Today Marty and Alex personally manage this heritage site working side-by-side with Rudy and the current vineyard owners. Their Chardonnay comes from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard that sits way up at 2000 ft elevation on the hillsides of Calaveras County. These vines were planted on their own rootstock in 1974 on a patch of blue limestone and schist, and are now prized for their small berries and low-yields, adding to the concentration of flavor in their wine. Perhaps one of their most compelling offerings is their field-blend bottling of mostly Zinfandel from the Stampede Vineyard planted in the 1920's next to the Clements Stampede Rodeo. This property is currently being farmed by the incredibly diligent Jeff and John Pergelos who work closely with Marty and Alex to transform this previously negleted vineyard. 

I am not often blown away by expressions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Zinfandel from outside their native lands, but with the deep respect and appreciation for their vineyard sites, the wines of Maître de Chai allow these grapes to speak volumes to the potential of California terroir.  Michelle DeWyngaert

Maître de Chai 2017 Lodi Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel

One of the first wines I ever loved was old-vine California Zinfandel, so I was very excited to taste this expression from Maître de Chai. The Stampede Vineyard was planted in the early 1940s with own-rooted Zinfandel on decomposed granite. Inspired by the wines of the famous Ridge Vineyards, this bottling is a field blend of mainly Zinfandel, with a bit of Mission and Carignan. The fermentation is done with 50% whole cluster bunches in open-top neutral oak and then aged for one year. The wine is a classic Zinfandel mix of fresh, ripe, and also dried red plum and raspberry. The tannins are present and driving, but not aggressive, well balanced by its fresh acidity, and a peppery finish. This wine will be excellent with flavorful game meats, and I look forward to trying it again in several years to see how it has progressed. Michelle DeWyngaert

  • red
  • 18 in stock
  • $32.99

  • Low Sulfur

Maître de Chai 2018 Calaveras County Rorick Vineyard Chardonnay

Maître de Chai sources this beautiful Chardonnay from the Rorick Vineyard in Calaveras County of the Sierra Foothills AVA. Way up at 2000 ft above sea-level, Matthew Rorick farms these 45-year-old vines on steep slopes of blue limestone and schist. The farming is done all organically and the wines are made with natural yeast fermentation, which, with this vintage, meant that there was no malo-lactic fermentation. The wine is then filtered to avoid refermentation and reduce the need for heavy-sulfuring at bottling but never fined. Between the elevation of the vines, the limestone, and the lack of malo-lactic fermentation, this wine is super fresh and vibrant. Notes of ripe green and yellow apple mix with dried hay, and a touch of honey. As with all of Maître de Chai's wines, the style is a return to the more restrained, elegant style of winemaking of their predecessors from the '60s and '70s. Michelle DeWyngaert

  • white
  • 7 in stock
  • $23.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Maître de Chai 2018 Sonoma Valley Herron Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

California Sauvignon Blanc has a reputation for being either overly ripe or overly oaked, but in the hands of the Maître de Chai winemakers and with 50-year-old vines, it can show remarkable restraint and complexity. The Herron Vineyard in Sonoma Valley was planted in 1969 by an enthusiastic teenager from Oaxaca, Rudy Rodriguez, and has been farmed organically ever since by Rudy's family and Phyllis and Wynne Herron, the current owners. The soils are never tilled and only occasionally mowed to maintain the health of the soil and intricate micro-biome of the vineyard. Today the vines are super low-yielding creating concentrated, flavorful Sauvignon Blanc. The nose displays a mix of wet stone, nectarine, lime, and a touch of lemongrass. On the palate, the wine shows ripe pear and pink grapefruit with plenty of acidity, but with softened, rounded edges owing to the neutral barrel fermentation and élevage. Michelle DeWyngaert

  • white
  • 8 in stock
  • $29.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur