Pfendler Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Cost: $45, $55

What: If you want to find out why wine lovers rave about the Petaluma Gap, just try the Chardonnay or Pinot Noir produced by Pfendler Vineyards.

The 2019 vintage of both wines displays all the best characteristics of wines originating in this unique area: rich, elegant fruit with crisp acidity.

Just 25 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Petaluma Gap generates unusual wind and fog conditions that make the region one of the best for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Pfendler and its winemaker, Erica Stancliff, take full advantage of these conditions to produce outstanding artisanal wines.

Peter Pfendler planted the first vineyard on the family’s Sonoma Mountain ranch in 1992, with subsequent plantings flowing from the peak of the mountain to its base. His wife, Kimberly, founded the winery in 2007, after Peter had died.

On the winery’s website Kimberly says of Peter, “…his vision is the guiding star for the quality and beauty of the wines that we produce, and we celebrate his memory with each vintage. My goals are to continue to grow the finest-quality grapes for our wines, to further Peter’s legacy of wildlife and land conservation, and to foster in our son, Nicholas, a love of our vineyard, our ranch, and in his father’s words, ‘this big, green, beautiful Earth.’”

The 2019 vintage marks the first release of wines made by Stancliff. A rising star in the California wine scene, she is firmly rooted in the Petaluma Gap. She had served as president of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance since 2019 as well as making wines for her family winery, Trombetta Family Wines.

She also has worked at many other wineries. Her passion for wine was sparked when family friend Paul Hobbs discovered she had a gifted palate at age 10.

Stancliff and Kimberly Pfendler first met when they worked together on a Petaluma Gap auction lot for the 2018 Sonoma County Barrel Auction. They discovered they had a common vision for wine, and Stancliff was intrigued by the quality of the Pfendler estate vineyards.

“Erica is a winemaker who shares my love for elegant wines, made with a gentle touch, which are reflective of the vineyard,” says Kimberly. “We are aligned in our values and share a common language. I could not be more thrilled to have her at the helm as winemaker for Pfendler Vineyards.”

In the cellar, Stancliff adopts a minimalistic approach, fermenting and aging each lot separately.

The 2019 Pfendler Chardonnay ($45) is a blend of fruit from Pfendler’s lower elevation estate sites: the cool and foggy Pullis Vineyard, which sits at 1,000 feet elevation, and the original Pfendler Vineyard which sits at 1,800 feet elevation. Refined and elegant, the 2019 Chardonnay emphasizes texture, mouthfeel and aromatics over intensity.  

The wine has powerful aromas of honesuckle, citrus blossom and green apple, with a rich mouthfeel of fresh cream. The lingering finish gives hints of lemon peel with a crisp acidity.

The grapes are hand-harvested, undergo a whole cluster press and then settled overnight in stainless steel tanks. The wine is barrel fermented in French oak (50 percent new) for 10 months sur lee, stirred every 10 days. It also go through malolactic fermentation.
The 2019 Pfendler Pinot Noir ($55) grapes come from the winery’s Helgren Vineyard, the highest of Pfendler’s three estate vineyards. Sitting at 2,200 feet on the mountain top, Helgren is situated above the fog line, offering the greatest sun exposure. The 2019 Pfendler Vineyards Pinot Noir is notably age worthy. Decanting the current vintage opens up the wine’s floral and aromatic notes.

Italian sausage on the grill.

This complex wine continued to develop in the glass as we drank it, starting with aromas of black tea and ripe red fruits. As I drank it I picked up flavors of blackberry and pomegranate, leading to a long, full finish.

The grapes are completely destemmed after hand-harvesting. The juice is punched down three times a day during fermentation then ages 10 months in French oak (50 percent new). The two clones of Pinot Noir are fermented separately and then blended prior to bottling.

Winery: Peter Pfendler planted the first vineyard on the family’s Sonoma Mountain ranch in 1992. Additional vineyards were planted later, from the peak to the base of the mountain.

The winery itself was created in 2007 by Kimberly Pfendler to produce great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Each of the vineyards on the mountain reacts differently to the maritime influence of the Sonoma Coast and provides a wide-ranging palate of cool-climate flavors that go into the Pfendler wines.

Raised in a food-centric family, Erica Stancliff credits her mother’s authentic Italian cooking for shaping her palate, but credits respected winemaker and family friend Paul Hobbs with guiding her to the realization that winemaking was her calling.

Erica graduated from California State University Fresno and then completed her internship at Viña Cobos winery in Mendoza, Argentina. After returning to California she worked at Rudd Oakville Estate in the Napa Valley, CrossBarn Winery in Sebastopol, as an enologist at Enartis Vinquiry, and as winemaker for Furthermore Wines at Graton Ridge. Since 2014 Erica has been winemaker for her family’s Trombetta Family Wines, and helped the brand expand from 500 cases of Pinot Noir to more than 1,200 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Erica first worked with Petaluma Gap fruit in 2010, became Vice President of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance (PGWA) in 2018, and President in 2019.

“Kimberly’s vision for Pfendler Vineyards aligns with my own values as a winemaker, and it’s a privledge to work with her and her three distinct estate vineyard sites,” says Erica. “Her wines reflect the Petaluma Gap’s intensity, while maintaining their acidity and elegant aromatic profile.”

The spicy stir-fry chicken was a good match for the Pfendler Chardonnay.

Goes with: We had the Chardonnay with chicken stir fry, one of my favorite healthy meals. It’s a great mix of chicken, carrots, celery, bell pepper, snow peas, water chestnuts and peanuts stir-fried in a soy/ginger/sherry sauce. I serve it over rice, and it is always delicious.

The Chardonnay had the perfect blend of creaminess and acidity to pair with the tasty chicken stir fry. The wine smoothed out the slight spiciness of the dish, and each sip made me want more food.

The Pinot Noir was a great match for Italian sausage sandwiches. I grill the sausage until it gets a crispy crust. Then I pop it in a split piece of baguette and cover the meat with sauteed onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. I usually toast the baguette to help hold the sandwich together. The sauce from the sauteed vegetables can make things a little messy.

But the flavors are exquisite. You might not think of Pinot Noir to pair with Italian sausage, but I thought the complex flavors or this Pinot brought out all the best flavors of the sandwich.

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I enjoyed the Pfendler Pinot Noir with Italian sausage sandwiches.

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