Rockin’ and sippin’ and thinkin’ on the porch with Sandy, Teri, Dennis, John and Edith. Thanks to Steve for taking the photo.

Donelan Nancie Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma County
Cost: $47-50
S ometimes I don’t know if it’s the wine or the surroundings that make moments so special. Both of those things are important, but what really makes an occasion special are the people with whom you share the wine and the surroundings.
We had one of those moments a couple of weeks ago as we so often do with our wine travel buddies, the Magnificent Eight.
The wine was Donelen Nancie Chardonnay, the surroundings were the majestic mountains of Maggie Valley, N.C. We have had many such moments since I became friends with the other folks on a visit to Napa Valley wineries six years ago. Besides liking everyone on that trip, I will be forever grateful to them for their friendship at a time I needed a friend or two.
Edith enjoys the Chardonnay while working a difficult puzzle.

John and Edith own the place on the other side of the mountain from the Cataloochee ski area with a great view across the mountains and down into a beautiful valley. We’re all grateful when they invite us to join them in that gorgeous place. We meet at Edisto Beach in early spring and at other places, but Maggie Valley can’t be beat.

We cook, eat, talk, rock on the porch, watch hummingbirds, work jigsaw puzzles and feel like the luckiest people alive. We also solve all the problems of the world. All the little hurts and disappointments of the real world fade into insignificance when we’re in the rocking chairs sipping wine. For me, the wine makes all of it better.
If we’re sipping a wine from one of the places we visited, it brings up good memories. If it’s a new wine to us, we might talk about how it compares to our favorites.
This Chardonnay, named in honor of winery founder Joe Donelan’s mother, Nancie, was a spectacular addition to our mountain seminar. The grapes harvested from four different cool-climate Sonoma vineyards, bring a delightful complexity to the wine.
A beautiful pale straw yellow in the glass, the wine sends out lush aromas of apple, pear and vanilla bean. Each sip brings on a new flavor, but I especially tasted citrus, minerals and vanilla, with a hint of spice. It all leads to a long, smooth finish sure to leave a smile on your face.
The grapes come from four cool-climate vineyards in Sonoma County. Two are on Sonoma Mountain, benefitting from cool ocean breezes, rocky soils and high elevation. One vineyard is in the Russian River Valley with vines that are more than 30 years old. Those grapes add richness and a mineral component. The fourth is from a hillside in the cool Green Valley.
After fermentation the wine is aged for 10 months in barrels, 18 percent new oak.
Sandy worked on the puzzle with Edith for hours.

Winery: Joe Donelan was a successful executive at paper broker A.T. Clayton in the 1980s. He loved people, travel, wine and food, so naturally he enjoyed entertaining his clients. Becoming friends with the sommelier at his favorite restaurant in Nantucket, Joe’s passion for wine grew.
He visited California and France and came to appreciate wines from all over the world, but especially those from the Rhone Valley.

When an opportunity presented itself he founded Pax Wine Cellars with Pax Mahle in 2000. They focused on single-vineyard Syrahs from Sonoma County and business boomed.
In 2009 Joe formed his own company, Donelan Family Wines, along with his sons Tripp and Cushing who share his passion for wine. The Donelan family began making waves with their first vintage in 2009, becoming known for high quality Rhone and Burgundy varietals.
They give each wine special attention, starting with small-parcel vineyards in Sonoma County. They concentrate on small yields, gentle handling, attentive sorting and meticulous blending to capture the distinctive characteristics in each bottle.
They started by buying fruit from select vineyards. Then in 2015 they bought their first estate vineyard, the Obsidian Vineyard in Knights Valley. The family also has long-term lease agreements for key vineyards in Sonoma County.
Joe Donelan is a big believer in the importance of where the grapes are grown.
“It is like real-estate: if you have a great location, then you should be in good shape. We believe that the best wines are not made, they are discovered. Site really trumps all variables,” says Donelan.
Donelan sells about 80 percent of its wine to its mailing list, but they also are available
in select high-end wine retailers and restaurants. Their wines include: Nancie Chardonnay ($48), Venus Roussanne/Viognier ($48), Cuvée Christine Syrah ($48), Cuvée Moriah GSM ($50), Two Brothers Pinot Noir ($55) and Walker Vine Hill Vineyard Syrah ($75), The Rosé ($25), Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah ($60), Genevieve’s Block Chardonnay ($70), Kobler Family Vineyard Viognier ($78), Tripp’s Block Pinot Noir ($78), Cushing’s Block Pinot Noir ($78), Cuvée Keltie Syrah ($90), Obsidian Vineyard Syrah ($105) and Richards Family Vineyard Syrah ($150). They are available by visiting
I am grateful to my friend Sivan for giving us this bottle of wine when we were in New York. It was great fun to share this wine with the Magnificent Eight.
Chefs John and Steve look over the burgers we cooked on another night.

Goes with: We had this wine while spending several days in the North Carolina mountains with our dear friends. It was wonderful for sipping while sitting on the porch and eating snacks.
It was even better with a meal of grilled chicken and baked potatoes. Steve, John and I cooked the chicken slowly at a low heat while basting it with a mop sauce of apple cider vinegar, salt and whatever herbs we could find in the kitchen. The vinegar and spices add a nice tang to the meat and keep it moist.
Usually the centerpiece of our Magnificent Eight gatherings is the great conversation around a good meal with fine wines. This gathering was certainly no exception.
This is one of a dozen hummingbirds who fought each other to get to the feeder.

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