Chardonnay from a cold-climate like the Sta. Rita Hills is typically more ‘Chablisienne’ in style; showing higher acidity as well as strong citrus and mineral components, rather than the lush, tropical style of warm climates.
Clone 76 was selected in Burgundy specifically for Melville’s Inox Chardonnay program. As in its native Burgundy, this early-ripening clone flourishes in the cold climate of the Sta. Rita Hills, showing both ample flavors and acidity at an earlier brix than most clones. Moreover, it bears light clusters with fewer berries, resulting in wines that are very aromatic and well-balanced.
Hanzell is a heritage clone that came from Wente cuttings planted at Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma in 1953, purported to be the oldest continually producing Chardonnay vines in the western hemisphere. This clone is known for its susceptibility to millerandage (aka “hens and chicks”), whereby grape clusters have some normal-size berries, but also many small and seedless berries. While that may sound scary, abnormal conditions such as this do not necessarily negatively affect the vine’s fruit or wines made from it (scout’s honor!). Instead, it contributes to the unique expression of the clone.
Hudson is a Wente selection that was first isolated by Lee Hudson. The Hudson selection matures earlier, at lower sugars, higher total acidities, and lower yields. It lends a strong citrus and mineral component to the wines. Melville’s crew field-grafted dormant Hudson buds onto existing vines in their estate vineyard. Eventually, these buds turned into canes and the rest of the (non-Hudson) vine was cut off in order to isolate them.
Formerly Olmo #66, this Wente clone was identified in Carneros in 1955. A highly-regarded clone, many of the great Chardonnays of the mid-1990s had Clone 4 as a base. Though it is more subject to vintage variation than other clones, under the right conditions, it produces healthy yields with larger than average, late-maturing clusters, and a very high acidity level, even at ripe brix. Because of its incredible acid/sugar/flavor balance, this clone makes up the backbone of Melville’s estate Chardonnay.
Mount Eden is a field selection that originated from a non-Wente Chardonnay line. When Paul Masson immigrated to San Jose in the late 19th century, he established La Cresta vineyard and winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1943, Martin Ray took Chardonnay cuttings from Paul Masson’s property and planted them on a nearby 2,000-foot peak called Mt. Eden. This late-ripening, cold-loving clone has low yields with small berries and tight clusters, resulting in intensely concentrated fruit.
Sweeney Canyon is a selection from a small vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills planted by the Marks family in 1980. At that time, growers had less intimate knowledge about clones, so they simply took cuttings of vines that were successful and planted them on their land. In fact, it is suspected that this selection isn’t even 100% Chardonnay. However, what is known is that it produces high-toned, highly-aromatic (floral), early-ripening, medium-size clustered berries that result in wines with wonderful flavor/acidity balance, much like muscadet or riesling.