In our 2004 Best of the Best issue, we selected as winners red and white domestic wines that had been crafted by the same winemaker. Typically, we strive to ensure that the widest possible range of regions, varietals, and styles is represented in these pages; however, in the final analysis, our decisions are always guided by the merits of the wines themselves, and that year, the two domestic releases that surpassed all others were the Colgin Cellars 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Tychson Hill Vineyard and the Aubert 2001 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Lauren Vineyard, both the extraordinary handiwork of Mark Aubert, whose oenological gifts have placed their imprint on some of California’s most important labels.
A Napa Valley native, Aubert studied oenology at California State University, Fresno, and worked at Rutherford Hill and Monticello Cellars before being offered the position of assistant winemaker to Helen Turley at Peter Michael Winery. Turley’s influence was a critical factor in Aubert’s development: Under her aegis, Peter Michael emerged as one of the finest producers of Chardonnay in California—one whose offerings compared favorably to those from the fabled vineyards of the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. Aubert proved an apt pupil, and he and Turley formed an abiding friendship. When she left Peter Michael to take over as the winemaker at Colgin Cellars, one of the Napa Valley’s preeminent boutique wineries, Aubert took the helm, applying his remarkable skills to the production of classically beautiful Chardonnay and the winery’s superbly supple, powerfully structured Bordeaux-style blended red wine Les Pavots. His ties to Turley remained strong during his tenure at Peter Michael—so much so that in 1999, when she left Colgin to focus her energies on her own label, Marcassin Winery, Aubert replaced her once again.
While at Colgin, Aubert launched his own label, introducing a 2000 Chardonnay made with fruit purchased from the Ritchie Vineyard on the Sonoma coast near Forestville. This white varietal had been his supreme passion since his days at Monticello Cellars; determined to make wine from a property of his own, in 2001 he and his wife, Teresa, purchased a vineyard not far from Ritchie that they named for their daughter Lauren. The wines from this parcel possess a signature richness—an unctuous texture and extracted, aromatic fruit—that is tantalizingly balanced by gripping mineral notes and clean acidity. Pale yellow in color with flashes of peridot green, the Aubert 2010 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Lauren Vineyard ($90) shows notes of Asian pear, Honeycrisp apple, beeswax, and lemongrass seasoned with hints of caraway seed and wet granite. Though rich, its fine structure will enable it to age for at least a decade more—an observation borne out by a recent retasting of the Aubert 2001 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Ritchie Vineyard, which has gained in depth and nuance while still retaining traces of its original freshness.