A winemaker for 15 years, Ondine Chattan is the Director of Winemaking at Geyser Peak Winery.
When she was promoted to this position, the CEO of Ascentia Wine Estates CEO called her “an extremely talented, progressive winemaker.” She is also the lead winemaker for the XYZin brand, whose wines are also produced by Geyser Peak Winery personnel.
Chattan has crafted numerous award-winning wines and created two new proprietary red blends from the Alexander Valley for release in 2014: Tectonic and Devil’s Inkstand, along with an appellation-focused Pinot Noir, Pluto’s Fury, from the Russian River Valley.
She lives in Healdsburg with her husband, David, and their three sons, 4-year-old twins and a 1-year-old.
What drew you to viticulture and enology?
The opportunity to pursue a scientific career that also offered creativity and lifestyle components.
What is your winemaking philosophy and how does that translate into your day-to-day work and long-term goals?
I have made wine my life but I believe in a healthy perspective with regard to its importance in the world. I believe wine should enhance food and the dining experience and serve as an accompaniment to conversation but I do not believe it need take center stage. My mantra is ‘context is everything’ and I am fortunate in my position to be able to craft wines in multiple price ranges that allow me to pursue gradations in philosophy.
I believe in presenting both fruit and earth elements in a wine and showcasing varietal subtlety. I also take great pride in producing a line of wines that is accessible to both novice and connoisseur. I am staunch in my belief that a consumer should be able to purchase a very good bottle of wine for $12 or less, and I am proud to produce a handful of wines that deliver at that price point.
I believe in a house style that also allows for vintage variation so our Geyser Peak wines are highly consistent in quality and flavor profile from vintage to vintage while still allowing for the signature of each specific vintage.
What this all rolls back to is a foundation belief in a connection to the earth and a philosophy of sustainability. From style consistency to fair price, this involves inputs at every stage of the winemaking process from working with grower partners to implementing innovative techniques in ferment, aging and finishing the wines.
In your opinion, what aspect of winemaking is most important to making good wine?
Sourcing good grapes and working with particular sites and growers over many years. Good ‘ingredients’ make good wine.
Which of your “secrets” or techniques might you share with your peers?
Sauvignon Blanc tastes best when the vines carry a heavy crop (as long as the vine and water availability will allow the fruit to mature). Wine consumers have been trained to believe that wine is only good if the vines carried a small crop. Another ‘secret’? Mechanical harvesting is amazing.
What percentage of the grapes that you source from California comes from Sonoma County?
About 50 percent
What wines are you making with Sonoma County grapes, and how would you describe them?
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, four different Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, a Rhone-style blend, Chardonnay, Meritage, a red blend. As a group they show the interplay of fruit and earth and a strong sense of continuity in style. Our style is distinct but not overblown. We have abundant fruit, intriguing spice, supple tannins, medium to full body, distinct varietal character, subtle oak influence, reasonably low alcohol, persistent finishes and overall accessibility.
I like to think the wines don’t ‘clobber’ you but rather impress with their subtlety and versatility. There is an accessibility and ‘welcoming’ nature in the wines.
What wine or wines would you recommend for the summer?
I’ll be a broken record here but Sauvignon Blanc is perfect. Also, our Pinot Grigio is lovely and floral. Tectonic is a medium-bodied red wine that will pair beautifully with summer grilling and is not too heavy. I always have to say Zinfandel for barbeque as well.
How many vineyards do you visit and why is this important? Besides individual vineyards we also have individual blocks within each vineyard so it is actually an alarming number – well over 100 – and each block might as well be a different vineyard site. Visiting vineyards is critical to understanding what we can achieve with each site and, of course, during the harvest season we make our picking calls based on taste so spending a lot of time in the vineyards is critical to harvesting at optimal maturity.
What are you most proud of?
Producing wines (notably our California Sauvignon Blanc) that are accessible to just about anyone and still regularly receive high accolades. I love hearing from our consumers how our SB is their ‘go-to’ wine. It is so rewarding to reach such a wide audience – it is like being part of a community, a shared culture and mindset.