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The calling chardonnay being served at dinner.

The Calling Wine

By Published On: January 4th, 2024

Winemaker James MacPhail’s newest wine inspired by Heintz Vineyard.

Cool, foggy Green Valley is well-known for its exquisite Chardonnay, but as one of the smallest appellations in Sonoma County, its Russian River Valley fruit can be very hard to come by. Heintz Vineyard, for example, sells its premium grapes to only top tier wine producers, and is so coveted it has an extensive waiting list. 

Aerial view of Heintz Vineyard during fall season.
Aerial view of Heintz Vineyard during fall season. Photo Courtesy: The Calling Wine.

Its Chardonnay goes to high-level makers such as Littorai, Williams Selyem, DuMOL, Pierson Meyer, Michael Cruise Wine (dba Ultramarine sparkling), Radio Coteau, and the hidden gem, The Calling wines. 

“It’s one of the most iconic vineyard sites for Chardonnay – a ‘Grand Cru-esque’ site if we were to have one,” said The Calling’s winemaker James MacPhail of the high-elevation vineyard set at 900 feet above sea level, just 9 miles from the Sonoma Coast. “The strong maritime influence develops complex savory and mineral notes, for stunningly beautiful and complex-driven wines.”

Such distinctive fruit character is what drove MacPhail to partner with Heintz Vineyard owner Charlie Heintz to create MacPhail’s newest wine, the just-released The Calling Single Vineyard Series Chardonnay ($70). It’s the inaugural vintage, produced from The Calling’s first harvest in 2021. 

The Calling Single Vineyard Series Chardonnay paired with food.
Single Vineyard Series Chardonnay served during dinner. Photo Courtesy: The Calling Wine.

That year, grape growers suffered through a drought that resulted in low yield, but in The Calling’s case, also brought on concentrated flavor and full-bodied, satiny texture. It helped that Heintz had planned ahead for judicious water use on his estate.

“In 2008, we built a reservoir for natural rain flow, holding 7.5 million gallons,” Heintz said. “Water can go all over this ranch, so when a plant is thirsty, we can turn on a drip. Kind of like when we need a nice cold beer in the heat.” 

Charlie Heintz in the vineyard.
Charlie Heintz in the vineyard. Photo Courtesy: The Calling Wine.

The Wine

The rich, bright Chardonnay brims with aromas of Gravenstein apple, lemon blossom, and white flowers, with flavors of Bartlett pear, tropical lychee, lemon meringue, and stone fruit. After 40% malolactic fermentation, it was aged 16 months in 100% French Oak, with 30% new barrels.

Only 440 six-bottle cases were made. 

Winemaker James Macphail holding The Calling chardonnay in the vineyard.
Winemaker James Macphail holding chardonnay in the vineyard. Photo Courtesy: The Calling Wine.

The Fruit

Running east to west, the white grape rows stretch far across the gently sloping ridge top, up to a small forest with peeks at the Pacific Ocean beyond. Just 25 acres are planted; spread across all the clients.

As MacPhail led a visitor through the meticulously groomed property just before the 2023 harvest, he joked that he isn’t sure how long his allocated three rows of vines are. “Very long, is the scientific term,” he said. “But, well, on a hot day when you’re grape sampling them, they’re frigging long.”

Winemaker James Macphail in the vineyard.
Winemaker James Macphail. Photo Courtesy: The Calling Wine.

At harvest, MacPhail helps supervise the picking, which is remarkably “clean,” meaning workers go through rows multiple times, picking on only the best fruit and discarding anything under- or over-ripe, so that very little sorting needs to be done off-the-vine. Manicuring the vines this way also means workers can speed up their final picks and be sure they are getting everything, as Heintz said, “near perfect.”

Working in the vineyard during harvest season.
Harvest time. Photo Courtesy: The Calling Wine.

As MacPhail noted, “not everyone can hand-harvest so meticulously, so perfectly. There’s a full time, year-round crew here, so crews can adjust things through the season and not be overwhelmed at the end. So a pick can be scheduled on the exact day I want, when the flavors are optimum. Yep, I’m a very lucky dude.” 

The Calling Wine Chardonnay grapes.
Chardonnay grapes picked during harvest season.

History

The Heintz family purchased the 100-acre property from the legendary Dutton family in 1912, and first used the ranch for chickens, berries, cherries, apples and other vegetables. They planted their first Chardonnay vines in 1980, and today, grow Pinot Noir and Syrah, too. 

Heintz Vineyard at sunset.
Heintz Vineyard at sunset. Photo Courtesy: The Calling Wine.

“In the 80s, this was the furthest westerly planting of Chardonnay and nobody really knew if it would ripen for still wines,” Heintz recalled. “We ended up getting just one ton from the whole 25 acres, and it ended up going to Korbel (California Champagne).”

Then, 30 years ago, Ted Lemon of the famed Littorai Wines got involved. He was interested in buying Chardonnay, but insisted Heintz manage his vineyard differently.

“Prior to Ted, all we all we did was grow tons of grapes,” Heintz said. “There was no attention to detail about quality, so Ted came here and trained us to become great grape growers. And you know, my foreman at the time thought it was nuts – why are you doing that? I give Ted a lot of credit today, because he was the one that came into this neighborhood, this part of the world, and said, ‘we can do better as growers, we can make better wines.’”

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