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"Master Craftsman" David Ramey

By W. Peter Hoyne

The are many icons in the wine industry that have attained success  through individual achievements. There is a much smaller number who have inspired us along the way, influencing our thought process and palate at the same time. One such icon who has impacted generations of consumers with his adventurous spirit, passion and brilliance in winemaking is David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars in Sonoma, California.

 To say David Ramey is a trailblazer, innovator and ingenious technician may be a gross understatement. By anyone’s standards he has gone beyond conventional roles to forge a new movement. Congenial, humble and unassuming is not what you would expect from an accomplished winemaker with David’s credentials. For nearly four decades he has gone beyond traditional norms expanding our understanding of how wine should be made while establishing prominence for wineries along the way. He mastered Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley and defined Chardonnay from Sonoma. He professed “chardonnay is the red of whites.” Eventually, he would settle in Sonoma County developing his own brand and David Ramey winery. Within Russian River Valley, David would fine-tune his expertise in crafting exquisite single-vineyard Chardonnay.

Raised in what would later become Silicon Valley in California, David’s parents worked for NASA. He completed his undergraduate degree at UC Santa Cruz and early on realized that his calling was not American Literature. Traveling between Baja, California and Mexico, in his Toyota pick-up, David had an epiphany about a career path in wine. Shortly thereafter he returned from Mexico and enrolled at UC Davis, completing a Masters degree in Oenology. His graduating class included the whose-who of wine.

He was exposed to French culture and winemaking techniques during his first internship at Jean-Pierre Moueix of Chateau Petrus fame in the Pomerol appellation of Bordeaux, France. This would leave a lasting impression on David’s winemaking techniques and style.  Afterwards, he journeyed to the industrial, high volume Lindeman’s Winery in Australia.

Arriving back from Australia in 1980, David served as the assistant winemaker to female pioneer Zelma Long at Simi Winery. After five years, he transitioned to winemaker for Matanzas Creek Winery, following in the footsteps of Merry Edwards. Later, he would establish the credentials for Chalk Hill Chardonnay as their winemaker. He then reconnected with Christian Moueix, becoming vice-president and winemaker of Dominus and overseeing the creation of the winery. David would then help Leslie Rudd turn Girard Winery into Rudd Estate and bring it to prominence. He spent years experimenting with improving the textural quality of wine by using native yeasts, not filtering, minimizing acidification of wines and harvesting fully mature grapes for red wines.

By 1996, David and his wife Carla had established Ramey Cellars in Healdsburg, California. Using grapes from renowned Hyde Vineyards in Carneros, David crafted a token amount of his own Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay. He further expanded his horizons introducing Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir along with single-vineyard Chardonnays.

David is a classicist with a minimalist approach, allowing nature to do its work. His wines have an exuberance wielding an artistic touch and a sophisticated gentle approach.  His reference point has always been Old World European wines, especially those from Bordeaux and Brunello di Montalcino, although his reds possess supple tannins and ripeness.  His affection will always be cool-climate Chardonnays that will transform anyone into a devoted follower.

David’s most recent fun project is the Sidebar label. It is a side project of the Ramey family that introduces the public to non-traditional grapes using the Ramey craftsmanship at a more affordable price point. This is just another addition to his epithet.

2016 Ramey Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Sourced from Russian River Vineyards this wine shows an immediately approachable style. There is attractive spice in the nose leading to a balanced inner core of  red plums and pomegranate.  It has some Burgundian tension and will be the perfect compliment at the dinner table.

 2016 Ramey “Westside Farms” Chardonnay: This wine underwent full malolactic fermentation with native yeasts and a whole cluster press. The delicate yellow hue reveals restrained aromas within a youthful wine. There are yellow stone fruits, lemon curd and minerality mixed nicely together. There is a lot of energy and tension inside this wine that will evolve over time.

 2016 Ramey “Rochioli Vineyard” Chardonnay: This is the second release for David from the famed Rochioli family vineyard. The medium yellow color and warm bouquet of white peach mixed with caramelized citrus gives you a glimpse into the wine’s true potential. This is a wine of delicate power and elegance that is long and caressing on the palate. The yellow stone fruits, sweet toast and freshness give this wine a sophisticated personality. This vintage will gracefully evolve in the bottle.

2016 Ramey “Ritchie Vineyard” Chardonnay: This wine underwent 100% malolactic fermentation in the barrel with native yeasts. In each vintage, Ritchie Vineyard is one of the best achievements from David’s portfolio. This full-bodied Chardonnay expresses itself with a medium straw yellow color then opens to a spring garden of floral aromatics. In between layers and layers of yellow plums and citrus is a coating of crème brulee richness. There is a touch of minerality that adds to the overall complexity of the wine and adds to its lasting impression.

2016 Ramey “Woolsey Vineyard” Chardonnay: Richness and tension are balanced in all of David’s wines. The aromas of warm crusted bread, orange zest and fresh orchard apples invite you to explore this Chardonnay.  Add to this some roasted nuts and brown spices. This medium-bodied wine has a generous personality and some honeyed elements. It remains bright and fresh through it’s lengthy finish.

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