Hanzell is the most amazing winery that I had never heard of. I was quite shocked to learn how crucial this winery has been to the development of modern wine-making over the past 60 years, especially because I had never come across this name before. I suspect that this is partly because the excellent wines they make are sold rather exclusively, and I'll talk more about these in a minute. First, it's important to pay homage to Hanzell, and it's winemakers. Around the middle of the last century, Hanzell winemaker Bradford Webb invented stainless steel fermentation and installed the first fermenter prototypes in the world in their winery; it's hard now to imagine something that could have had a greater impact on modern wine-making. Stainless steel fermentation is so widespread, so useful, and so efficient, that I was floored to discover that I didn't know the name of its inventor, or even that it had been invented in California (for some reason I thought that Australia got this credit).
|A map of the Hanzell estate's vineyards|
Hanzell has some of the oldest continuously producing Pinot Noir vines in the United States, with 61 year old vines in the Ambassador Vineyard. The original winery is still standing, though production has moved into a new building after the original was found to be tainted throughout with TCA - the chemical compound which makes wines taste 'corked'.
|The original stainless steel fermenting tanks at top,|
the Chardonnay and Pinot that we tasted at the bottom
The Pinot Noir was also the most amazing of its kind that I've ever been lucky enough to taste. It was very special to be able to join this tasting because Michael poured a 2011, a 1994, and a 1975. I'm quite sure that the 1975 is the oldest bottle of Pinot that I've tasted so far. It was remarkably fresh and vibrant. The brawny 1975 was actually more forward and open than the graceful 1994, which was a little more shy and serious. All three wines were sublime. Beyond the pure expression of Pinot Noir, in which cherries, cinnamon stick, tea, and orange rind were present, there was a mouth-tingling coolness that Michael attributed to the influence of Bay Laurel growing around the vineyard. Laurel contains a chemical compound called eucalyptol, which has been studied extensively because of its ability to infiltrate and intermingle with the naturally-occurring flavours of wine grapes (lots of work on this has been done in Australia).
So, to sum up, I can't believe how fortunate I am to have been able to taste these wines, and I can't thank Elaine, Michael, Jean, and Tia enough for permitting me to horn in on Elaine's tour. I will forever dream about the wine we tasted together - it's the Holy Grail of Burgundian varietals.