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Maitre de Chai: Golden-Age Style Californian Wines

Maitre de Chai: Golden-Age Style Californian Wines

Can chefs produce great wine? Absolutely.

You don’t need to be a chef to mechanically follow a recipe. You do need to be a chef to taste as you go, making little adjustments along the way. That recipe doesn’t know the humidity of your kitchen, or the size of your brussel sprouts, or the fact that your oven tends to be 5 degrees hotter than what the dial says. A chef will be able to respond to these micro-considerations, making sure that the meal is successful.

Wine is even more like. The variations in a vintage are infinite. Slight differences in the temperature of the winery can be very important. Ambient yeasts, the exact state of your second-use barrels, and all kinds of random stuff that happens at the bacterial level that we don’t even realize, contribute to the wine we ultimately drink. You need someone who can taste the wine, come up with a good intuition as to what’s going, and respond appropriately. You need a chef.

Marty Winters and Alex Pitts were both chefs. Very good chefs, having worked in some of California’s top kitchens including Cyrus, Quince, and the French Laundry. Since 2012, they’ve been applying their talents to wine, at Maitre de Chai.

They take a good dose of inspiration from California's centuries old winemaking traditions. Many of the wines come from the varieties and regions that we associate with California’s vinous golden age, the 1970s. And like those wines they are looking for a certain sense of balance. That means lower alcohol, straightforward and honest winemaking with restrained fruit allowing the qualities of each of the phenomenal sites they work with to shine through. And plenty of intuitive chefing along the way.

We had the team in our store for our recent California Harvest event, and the everybody loved the wines. We are pleased to offer some new releases today:

Maitre de Chai San Benito County Chardonnay Wheeler Vineyard 2021 - $29.99
From the producer: Wheeler Vineyard Chardonnay was planted in 1974 on AXR1 rootstock. Planted on a gravelly alluvial terrace located a stone's throw from the town of Tres Pinos in the San Benito AVA. 2021 was our first vintage working with this historic site and couldn't be happier with the wine. Whole cluster pressed and fermented in neutral oak barrels producing a powerful textured Chardonnay with all the acidity you'd expect from a cool climate, old vine vineyard such as Wheeler.

Maitre de Chai Gala Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 - $43.99
From the producer: The Gala Mountain Vineyard sits above the Napa Valley on the slopes of Mt. George, just east of the city of Napa. This northwest facing vineyard was planted in 1992 on rocky volcanic bedrock with sandy topsoil and is cooled by the constant breezes from the San Pablo Bay. The vines are well drained, deep rooting & produce small clusters, which lend to the structure of the wine. This six acre vineyard was converted from organic to biodynamic farming in 2018 and is tended to by hand. The wine was destemmed & fermented with its native yeasts in small open top fermenters and aged for sixteen months in neutral barrels. We used the same winemaking approach as all of our red wines, but this wine in particular displays the charm & intensity of mountain Cabernet from the Napa Valley: red licorice, golden raspberries & sassafras greet you in the glass. This wine carries all of this onto the palate as well: ripe blackberry juice, licorice & sarsaparilla -- all of the classic traits of Vaca Mountain Cabernet.

Maitre de Chai Sparkling Solera Michael Mara Vineyard MV - $67.99
From the producer: The Michael Mara Vineyard — planted in 2006 by Steve & Jill Klein Matthiasson — is a beautiful Chardonnay site just west of the town of Sonoma. This Traditional Method Sparkling Solera is a reserve blend of Chardonnay with components dating back to 2012 — our first vintage. The base wine was fermented with its native yeasts and after the second fermentation, was bottle aged for 24 months. Hand disgorged in July 2021. 1,260 bottles produced. Without question, after nine years in the making, this is the wine we are the most excited to release this fall. What started as the “Intern Project Chardonnay” in 2012 has culminated into a sparkling wine that is a blend of every vintage we have produced. In February of 2019, we tiraged roughly 100 cases, leaving behind about a single barrel to continue the Solera. With over a year and a half in bottle, the wine shows the beautiful autolytic character you'd expect. Meyer lemon tart and almond butter greet you on the nose with a palate of beeswax and tarte tatin, but the wine is driven by the acid and tannin characteristic of the Michael Mara vineyard. This bottle could easily age for 10+ years.


This story was originally featured in our newsletter, where it was offered at a special subscribers-only discount. Subscribers get special offers, the first look at new discoveries, invites to events, and stories about wines and the artisans that make them.