Etude Chardonnay Grace Benoist Ranch Vineyard, Carneros 2016

Deep gold color; white peach, pear, apple, lemon, bread on the nose; pear, lemon, green apple, fig, minerals, white spice on the palate.

Etude Chardonnay Grace Benoist Ranch Vineyard, Carneros 2016

Dry; medium-full body; silky texture; nice acidity; pure fruit; 100% chardonnay. Well done oak—11 months, but the oak is subtle complement to the rich fruit, not a competitor for your attention; same with butter—I think they limit malolactic fermentation. Hints of almonds appear on the extended finish, a nice touch.

Carneros straddles the Napa and Sonoma valleys, and the Grace Benoist ranch is a premier vineyard for pinot noir and chardonnay. Etude mirrors Burgundy more than assertive California efforts. That is a feature, not a flaw.

This bottle is another reason to find Etude Carneros wine. Grapes come from estate vineyards at Grace Benoist Ranch where the vines produce small bunches and even smaller berries, generating small yields and complex flavors. The vividly delicious and—at the same time, subtle—flavors are why you will enjoy this wine, also why you will pay extra for the privilege of doing so. The splurge is more than worth it, and this wine is fairly priced for the quality.

Tony and Michelle Soter

Tony Soter established Etude 1982 to realize a commitment to high-end pinot noir and, then, chardonnay. Hey, it works in Burgundy. The Carneros AVA was founded the next year. The Grace Benoist Ranch was developed in 2000 with nine Heirloom pinot noir clones, eight additional pinot noir clones, and seven chardonnay clones. The first crush of Grace Benoist Ranch grapes occurred in 2003. In 2010, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir 93-plus points. Etude is firmly entrenched as a Carneros superstar. This effort, even at plus $30, further affirms Etude’s lofty position in the California chardonnay firmament. Soter left Napa Valley in the mid-2010s to work with the Willamette Valley winery he co-owns with this wife, Michelle.

Etude winemaker Jon Priest

Jon Priest has been the winemaker at Etude since 2005. He succeeds because he believes wines are made in the vineyard, not the winery. The Etude website notes: “Jon headed early to the Northwest, attending Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, but soon returned home as his architect father helped create memorable Central Coast wineries. He worked briefly in a tasting room, and at the legendary Wine Cask in Santa Barbara before joining Wild Horse, beginning a career that led to Adelaida Cellars, to Pinot Noir focused Taz, and on to Etude, where he has spent nearly a dozen years creating memorable wines that tell you where they came from in every sip.”

The Grace Benoist Ranch vineyards were established with a full commitment to sustainability. Native oak and bay trees were retained to protect nearby waterways. Twelve miles of wildlife corridors were incorporated in the planning of the vineyard planting to preserve riparian habitats and the natural migration of wildlife. Naturally occurring wetlands were protected and an erosion control plan was implemented to protect nearby waterways.

The winery is Napa Green certified. Solar panels supply a third of Etude’s energy needs. Recycled water is used for landscape irrigation. Employees manage a composting and recycling program which diverts a large percentage of waste away from landfills. Etude also takes pride in their employee-cultivated garden, with a portion of the produce donated to the Napa Food Bank.

Etude Chardonnay Grace Benoist Ranch Vineyard, Carneros 2016 is a Burgundy style chardonnay with excellent fruit and mouth feel. Another Etude winner. Worthy of sipping solo with wine crackers, cheddar, camembert, or other light-medium cheeses and smoked sausage; this also will pair with dishes cooked in butter; creamy sauces with light cheese; simply cooked fish, including salmon fishcakes and baked lighter fish; paella; crab legs; scallops. $32

Etude Wines website

Grace Benoist Ranch vineyard
Entrance to Etude Winery
Etude Winery
Etude Winery tasting room