“He turned the use of the name over to us and we loved it,” explained Doug Fletcher, who since 1987 has been Winemaker at Chimney Rock. In 1990, the first vintage of Elevage was released, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
“Back then, we wanted to show off the qualities of our Merlot, and we also were growing more Cab Franc then,” noted Fletcher. “We had Cheval Blanc, the great Right Bank Bordeaux blend in mind for our positioning of the wine.”
Elevage has since evolved towards utilizing more Petite Verdot and less Cab Franc. “It’s more Pomerol than St. Emilion, and fluctuates from year to year with the percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Elevage 2002 is in its 12th vintage. Soft tannins and highly evolved fruit ripeness speaks not only of the geographical expression of the Stags Leap District, but of what true Meritage style should be about. “You can’t say it’s one varietal or another,” Fletcher pointed out, “but you can say it’s intriguing.” (SRP $76, 2775 cases)
Photo “ER”: Braised beef, rather than grilled meat, is the perfect match for the softer, more rounded style of a Meritage blend such as Elevage.
Chimney Rock is situated on the Silverado Trail in the southern end of the Napa Valley. Nestled within the coveted terroir of the Stags Leap District, and influenced by the cooling winds off the San Pablo Bay, the wines are cherished for their eloquently concentrated, silky Cabernet Sauvignons.
Chimney Rock was established in 1980. In May 2000 the winery formed a partnership with the Terlato Family, which invested more than $11 million in a new, state-of-the-art winemaking facility. The Terlatos assumed full ownership in 2004. As Director of Winemaking for the Terlato Wine Group, Fletcher also oversees Napa’s Rutherford Hill, Alderbrook Vineyards in Sonoma and Sanford Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Photo “CRATES”: Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon
Photo “WM”: Chimney Rock Winemaker Elizabeth Vianna with Doug Fletcher, Director of Winemaking for the Terlato Wine Group
Designed as a tribute to the great whites of Graves in Bordeaux, Fletcher and Chimney Rock Winemaker Elizabeth Vianna created ELEVAGE BLANC, its debut ’04 vintage slated for Spring of 2006.
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, the fruit is fermented in new and one-year-old French oak, aged on the lees for five months and then put through malolactic fermentation. It is aged for one year in the bottle.
For those not familiar with Sauvignon Gris, think of the differences between a Pinot Gris and a Pinot Blanc. The Pinot Gris will most likely be weightier and more aromatic, possibly more complex.
Such is the case with Sauvignon Gris, which unlike the crisp, clean and sometimes sharper Sauvignon Blanc, is round, fragrant, floral and mouth coating.
The combination raises the level of designer whites, and the limited production of Elevage Blanc (300 cases, SRP $36) offers up the complexity akin to an Haut Brion Blanc profile, at a tenth of the price.
“Don’t think of Elevage Blanc as a Sauvignon Blanc,” noted Fletcher. “This is a white Meritage – it’s a different animal. Our aim is for an age-worthy white, and like a Graves, develops differently over time, without too much phenolic characteristics – more like a great white Burgundy, rather than the honeyed, sherry-like properties that come with age from many over-the-hill California whites.”
Photo “CR”: Chimney Rock Winemaker Elizabeth Vianna, Director of Winemaking Doug Fletcher, with Rachel and David Cane of KNEW Radio-San Francisco’s “A Matter of Taste. “Elevage Blanc makes the food sing,” said Cane, during an on-air broadcast at the winery.
Perfumed fruit, dazzling peach blossoms and vanilla candy come into play with Elevage Blanc, certainly not the profile of a Sauvignon Blanc alone. It is the addition of the lyrical Sauvignon Gris, the rare varietal that allows the blend to not only be rightly called a Meritage, but infuses a lightly weighted, if not creamy mouthfeel and a wedge of lemon on the tongue before the mineral notes bid adieu at the finish.
Photo A: Paired with a creamy duck confit risotto with white truffles and parmesan cheese, from the kitchen of Knickerbockers’ catering in the Napa and Sonoma Valley, Elevage Blanc’s ascent to stardom lies within its elegant food-pairing ability.
Distributed by American Wines