Stony Hill Vineyard
Fred and Eleanor McCrea purchased the Stony Hill property in 1943 and began to plant Chardonnay vines in 1947 when only 200 acres of Chardonnay were grown in the entire state of California. Their first harvest came in 1952 along with construction of their small winery, one of the earliest in the 20th century rebirth of the Napa Valley wine industry. At the time there were only ten bonded wineries in Napa County! From the beginning Eleanor and Fred were inspired by the Chablis style of White Burgundy and to this day Stony Hill produces fruity, non-oaky, non-malolactic Chardonnays. In addition, Stony Hill grows eight acres of White Riesling grapes from which it makes an aromatic wine with slightly less than one percent residual sugar. Six acres of Gewurztraminer complete the forty acres of vineyard, and from these grapes it makes a crisp, light, dry wine so complementary to spicy foods.
Mike Chelini, Stony Hill’s winemaker and vineyard manager for thirty-eight years, brings continuity to Stony Hill by overseeing both the grape-growing and vinifying processes. His motto is, “let the flavor of the grapes determine the character of the wine.” Fred and Eleanor chose the “Wente Clone” of Chardonnay, which, combined with the hillside location, volcanic soils, marine influenced weather, and dry farming practices, produces grapes of intense varietal character. Mike presses the grapes with minimum skin contact and ferments in both stainless steel and older oak cooperage. After racking the wine off the lees, he ages it for nine months in neutral oak barrels to avoid masking its natural aromas and flavors. Finally, he ages the wine for a year in the bottle before releasing it for sale.
The result is a wine characterized in its first few years by the apple and citrus aromas that are natural for Chardonnay grapes and a flinty quality that derives from our rocky soils. To those who have not tasted Stony Hill Chardonnay, the young wine, while eminently drinkable, can often seem restrained and understated. This is by design. Given a few years of age, this delicate, fruity quality evolves into a more complex wine with overtones of honey and mature fruit. This aging process can continue in well-cellared Stony Hill Chardonnays for as long as twenty years, producing subtle wines of remarkable richness and intensity.