2004 Eagles' Perch Chardonnay
Chardonnay •Block 3, Eagles' Perch
California: Monterey County: Santa Lucia Highlands
What We Say
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Mission Codename: From on high
Operative: Agent White
Objective: Infiltrate World famous Paraiso Vineyards and return with their best white wine
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Paraiso Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2004 Eagles’ Perch Chardonnay
Winemaker: David Flemming
Backgrounder: Monterey County is regarded as one of the best Chardonnay producing regions in California. The Wine Spies have featured Monterey County Chards in prior missions and today we send Agent White to Paraiso Vineyards, where their Eagles’ Perch Chardonnay captivated him. In time for your Holiday gatherings, Agent White was able to secure a very special allocation for our Operatives.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Bright golden yellow with perfect clarity and sparkling edges, with legs that start slow then accelerate down the glass
Smell – Wonderfully expressive and bright with tropical fruit with citrus, toasted vanilla, river rock and soft white flowers
Feel – Great mouthfeel that is round and bouncy in the mouth. I enjoyed moving it around to different spots, felling the different sensations, temperatures and even textures that this wine delivered
Taste – Again, bright crisp with a dry river rock or flint minerality and rich fruit flavors of pineapple, starfruit and lightest guava
Finish – Long and strong, this is a wine that balances its flavors and aromas in its finish by tapering off in equal proportion with a slight dryness and mineral chalkiness that I find very pleasing
Conclusion – This vineyard designate wine from the winemasters at Paraiso breaks away from many of its California brethren by producing a distinctive Chardonnay that is anything but cookie-cutter. Many big producers of Chardonnay tend to produce Chards that lack character or individuality. Where those wines leave me feeling like I just finished 3 hours of sucking on a buttered oak barrel stave, this wine leaves me feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and reminded of the fact that real chardonnay is an art form, wherever it is produced. This Eagle’s Perch Chard is the sort of Chard a red wine drinker would taste and say, “You know, I don’t like white wines, but I like this white wine!” It’s easy to see why. Paraiso makes great Chardonnay!
I waited patiently in the Paraiso tasting room parking lot, waiting for my contact and trying not to stand out too much. Its hard when you drive a prototype hybrid spy car and after a few minutes, I spotted Paraiso owner Rich Smith walking toward me (I recognized him from our Paraiso Surveillance Dossier) and I quickly pretended to to dial my cell phone.
“Can I help you,” He asked.
“Oh, hi. I’m here to meet [censored]. He’s going to give me a tour of the vineyards. I am a writer for Imbibe Magazine.”
My cover as a wine writer comes in handy at times and Rich nodded, smiled and invited me to sit under a trellised area that overlooked the valley floor below. I obliged. It was a cool, but beautifully sunny and clear day and I enjoyed taking in the serenity of my surroundings.
My winery Asset arrived and our tour of the vineyards was a blast. Particularly beautiful was the block which was the Eagles’ Perch vineyard, which sits atop the Paraiso estate. At this spot, two golden eagles preside over the 30 year-old vines that make today’s wine.
When it came time to taste the delicious Chardonnay, it all came together for me; I am transported back to the vineyards where my memory of the view and the incredibly beautiful surroundings remind me that so many factors go into making a great wine – and that every wine is a unique expression of these factors. This wine expresses beautifully!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Paraiso vineyards can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
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About This Wine:
“91 Points, Exceptional” – Wine Enthusiast
2004 EAGLES’ PERCH CHARDONNAY
High up on the mountainous Paraiso estate is one particular block of thirty year old vines, overlooked by a craggy oak tree – the favorite vantage point for a nesting pair of golden eagles. These few prized rows of Chardonnay grapes exhibit the true Paraiso "terroir” – rich tropical fruit characters backed by a focused, Burgundian minerality and crispness. For this very limited debut offering, winemaker David Fleming conducted a barrel fermentation in primarily two-year-old French cooperage. A four month “sur lie” stirring program added further complexity and mouthfeel. The resulting Blanc is a revelation: rich and powerful, yet balanced and food-versatile.
“The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding… When the Spaniards came, they had to give everything they saw a name… The suggestions sometimes came from the nature of the place itself: Tassajara, a cup and saucer; Laguna Seca, a dry lake; Paraiso, because it was like Heaven…”
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Paraiso anchors the southern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. Rich Smith began planting the 400-acre Paraiso Springs property in 1973. Today, almost 150,000 vines occupy the sixteen different vineyard blocks, situated in the hills and canyons of the estate’s rough terrain. The vineyards, with their varying soils, elevations, and microclimates, produce grapes uniquely expressive of their site. Taken together, they offer the winemaker a painter’s palette of complex, flavorful hues from which to choose.
The Smith’s experience as winegrowers has translated into huge demand for the grapes grown at Paraiso. In addition to the fruit supplied for their own label, the family sells P.V. grapes, under contract, to several other ultra-premium producers.
Early bud break and fruit set are one of the advantages of Paraiso’s highland location. Mid-season leaf pulling and other canopy management techniques help focus the vine’s efforts. Harvest at Paraiso typically begins in mid-September and can run to late October. The Smith family employs sustainable agricultural practices at Paraiso, through the use of biodiverse systems and cover crops.
Rich and Claudia Smith arrived in Monterey County in 1973, their children and belongings in the car. Fresh out of college, the young couple was searching for the perfect locale to try out their newly-minted U.C. Davis training. Thirty years later, the Smith Family is one of the most influential and respected growers on California’s Central Coast. The Smith family has been instrumental in Monterey’s rise to prominence as a world class winegrowing region. Today Rich and his son Jason oversee 3,000 acres of grapes throughout Monterey County, providing fruit to many famous producers. In 1988, the Smiths began producing very limited, much sought-after wines under their own Paraiso banner…
The definition of a pioneer is not simply being the first into a new area or endeavor — the term pioneer implies vision, toil, innovation, and success that beckons others to follow. Paraiso’s Smith Family has, for thirty years, lived up to the title Monterey Winegrowing Pioneer. From scholastic research to practical hands-on knowledge, they have helped “write the book” on everything to do with growing vinifera in Monterey County. They took the lead in perfecting many of today’s industry standards — mechanical harvesting, mobile vineyard pressing, and advanced trellising and irrigation systems. They helped outline and establish the Santa Lucia Highlands American Viticultural Area, today recognized as one of the country’s premier appellations.
When the young Smith family arrived on the scene in the early 1970s, the fertile Salinas Valley had not changed much since John Steinbeck decades ago described its beautiful scenery and hard working vegetable crop farmers. A few major out-of-the-area wineries had planted large, commercial tracts of grapes here but their fruit left the region to be blended into wines elsewhere. From Day One, Rich and Claudia Smith saw in the region’s unique climate and soils the potential for another kind of winegrowing: hands-on, close-to-the-land, truly reflecting a Monterey “sense of place.”
The Smiths could easily rest on their laurels as one of America’s first families of wine. Daughter Kacy and son-in-law/winemaker David Fleming have three young children. Son / vineyard manager Jason and daughter-in-law / hospitality manager Jennifer Murphy-Smith are raising three of their own. The entire clan participates in creating the award-winning boutique wines from the Smith estate: Paraiso Vineyards
Growers: Rich and Jason Smith
Winemaker: David Fleming
Appellation: Santa Lucia Highlands
Vineyards: Block 3, Eagles’ Perch
R.S./Acidity: .04 / 550
Cooperage: 6 Barrels, French Oak
Barrel Aging: 12 months
Cases Made: 235
Enjoy: Now thru 2008