Superlative achievements, by their very nature, require an uncommon focus. So in their endeavor to produce the finest wines that the microclimates and terroirs of Napa and Sonoma can express, Jeff O’Neill and his partners at Ram’s Gate Winery have elected to specialize in single-vineyard small lots of two varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. O’Neill, a third-generation vintner and a past chair of California’s Wine Institute, who has founded and managed some of the country’s largest wineries, brings his considerable talents to bear on this more precise project, the 2013 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard ($68).
The winery’s name reflects its position at the entrance to the Carneros AVA, but in the five years since opening, Ram’s Gate has cultivated relationships with extraordinary growers throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. The Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay is the fruit of one such relationship with the superstar grower Larry Hyde, whose impressive and highly selective client list also includes Romanée-Conti’s Aubert de Villaine. The pale-yellow wine is aged for 11 months in French oak, with the potential to profitably mature for another 5 to 8 years or longer. Ram’s Gate has produced 712 cases of this 100 percent Chardonnay—a bounty for a winery whose definition of “small lot” is as little as 60 cases.
The bouquet leads strongly with honeydew melon, accented with orange blossom. On the palate, tropical notes of banana meld with honeycomb yet remain classical in character, and the finish is brisk and acidic. The wine would pair especially well with prawns, scallops, or crab. (ramsgatewinery.com)