Wine of the Week: 2009 Evening Land Vineyards Auxey Duresses Chardonnay, Burgundy
If the name “Evening Land” sounds a bit strange for a Burgundy label, it’s because indeed Evening Land is a very unique winemaking project. Based in Oregon, Evening Land spans the west coast and tiny villages of France with vineyards strategically based in Burgundy, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the Sonoma Coast, and Santa Barbara County’s Santa Rita Hills. It’s all in search of the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay expressions, with vines planted in the Motherland and the New World terroirs that seem to be exemplify Burgundy best.
A sip of the 2009 Chardonnay from Auxey Duresses, a village in the Côte de Beaune, not far from Meursault, and you’ll shake your head in dismay about what oak and butter explosions Chardonnay has been transformed into by many New world producers. Unfortunately, much of the wine drinking public now believes that Chardonnay is supposed to be like those explosions, not a subtle, textured wine full of finesse.
Mark Tarlov is the guiding force behind Evening Land, spanning the wide world of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a trio of winemakers, a legendary French winemaker as a consultant, and one of the country’s top sommeliers as general manager. It’s truly an all star team in all star locations.
Tarlov himself is as fascinating a story as Evening Land. Originally going down the Washington D.C. path as a politician’s speech writer an obtaining a law degree from Columbia University, Tarlov switched to the Hollywood path and became a film producer in the early 1980’s. The film world led to money, which of course leads to lavish meals, accompanied by appropriately lavish wines. And, it’s amazing how the world is opened with those wines, whether as an artist working on films, or inspiring the producer to leap into the wine business.
Larry Stone, formerly of Rubicon in San Francisco, is on board as the general manager, and Dominique Lafon is the consultant to discuss the next harvest. Sashi Moorman is the winemaker in California, crafting superlative Chardonnay, including from the Eola-Amity Hills’ La Source Seven Springs Vineyard. Moorman also serves as the winemaker for Rajat Parr (of Michael Mina’s restaurant group) and Charles Banks’ Santa Barbara County project, Sandhi. Sandhi’s 2009 Chardonnay is thus far the most brilliant California Chardonnay of that vintage I’ve tasted yet. Isabel Meunier is the Oregon winemaker and over in Burgundy, it’s Christophe Vial who is behind the operations.
It’s almost unheard of for an American to own precious vineyards in Burgundy. With the help of his esteemed French colleagues, Tarlov acquired some land, including in Auxey Duresses, and with the care of Vial, is presenting some of the world’s most pristine Chardonnay.
Only 200 cases were made of this 2009 bottling, a single 40 year old vineyard offering. Interestingly, Vial aged the vintage entirely for a year, but divided half of the wine into year old barrels and the other half in old barrels. It’s that combination that certainly brings down the oak components, allowing for the grapes to really demonstrate their formidable elegance.
The vineyard’s terroir consists mainly of limestone, expressed in the distinct wet cave notes that avoid being too depicting of slate. A hint of kaffir lime leaf and grapefruit strikes the nose. Then you notice the alluring golden hue of the body, much tanner than the weaker New World Chardonnays we are so accustomed to.
What hit me most is how light the wine is after several sips, yet still powerful for purpose. Imagine the ballerina as she tears up the Garnier’s stage.
A peculiar project that soars to new wine making heights. Is this the new direction that the wine industry is heading? Extending the St. John’s and Golden Gate Bridge across the Atlantic? If this Chardonnay is any indication, many will follow Tarlov’s lead.