Three Chardonnays from Array Cellars

Hello friends. This year I’ve had the honor of taking over lead wine writing duties for Seattle Magazine, and one of the articles I really wanted to write was about the continuing emergence of Washington Chardonnay. I was able to do so in the May issue, and one of my favorite parts of writing that article was shining more light on Henry Smilowicz and his wonderful Array Cellars.

Excerpting from that article (yes, I’m quoting myself, and yes, I recognize the dangers of the ever-expanding ego; fortunately having a baby this year has been a fine counterweight to all that):

Array Cellars founder Henry Smilowicz was one of the first on the new Chardonnay scene in Washington, and he was determined to source from cooler Chardonnay vineyards and make crisp, bone-dry, mouthwatering wines. “We wanted to leave the bigger, riper California style of Chardonnay behind,” he notes. “Minerality, balance, good acidity and food-friendly flavors are the driving forces.”

Smilowicz launched Array in Woodinville with the 2010 vintage, and beginning in 2011, the Array team expanded its lineup to include two single-vineyard and one multiple-vineyard Chardonnays. One is from 1980s plants at Otis Vineyard. For many years, the Otis fruit was under contract to Columbia Winery. Only in recent years have boutique wineries had a chance to make wines from Otis grapes. “It’s a treasure hunt of sorts,” Smilowicz says.

We’ve twice offered Array Chardonnays, and I was surprised (and thrilled) to learn that both of those are still available. We’ll reoffer them below, but not before introducing an Array wine we haven’t previously offered:

2011 Array Cellars Chardonnay Washington StateArray will eventually be introducing a single-vineyard Celilo Chardonnay with the 2012 vintage. In 2011, all that glorious fruit ended up in Array’s entry-level bottling, where it comprises 30% of the blend. Add 17% from Jewett Creek Vineyard, and this is nearly half Columbia Gorge fruit. The remainder is Stillwater Creek (30%) and Dionysus (23%), two more outstanding sites. Fermented in barrel using native yeasts, this went through full malolactic conversion, which I’m sure helped creamify some of the screaming acids from the cool 2011 vintage. Listed alc clocks in at 13.7%.

With all that Gorge fruit, this has a nose you’d expect, which is to say a solid whack of earthiness and minerality to pair with its mix of stone (peach, apricot) and citrus (lemon, orange peel) and melon fruit. In the mouth, it’s the sturdiness of the spine you notice first, a robust acid-mineral frame on which to hang the delicious fruit. Mouthcoating and mouthwatering all at once, this offers complexity and seriousness not often seen in Chardonnay at this price point.

2010 Array Cellars ChardonnayOriginally offered September 10, 2012. Original offer here.

What I said then: “…includes fruit from Conner Lee, Dionysus, and Stillwater, and it was fermented mostly with ambient yeasts and raised in 30% new French oak. The aromatics mix old world and new world but could only be Chardonnay: biscuit, lemon curd, smoke, nutmeg, hazelnut. Loads of aromatic complexity for this tariff. And then on the palate, the complexity continues. There is plenty of fruit (creamy apples, lemon oil), but it’s the notes of earth and smoke that really enchant, and the overall sense of balance and harmony that just seem impossible for this price point.”

Nearly two years on, this is drinking beautifully. My notes look really similar, with the exception of some maturing marzipan notes creeping in to ramp up the complexity further. The lush fruit, the bright acid, the inherent sense of balance; all still there.

2011 Array Cellars Chardonnay Dijon-Clone (Otis Vineyard)Originally offered October 7, 2013. Original offer here.

As a reminder, this comes from historically-significant Otis Vineyard (original Cabernet vines in the ground in 1957!). The Otis connection happened through Robert Takahashi. Robert now helps make the Array wines, but for many years, he assisted David Lake at Columbia, crushing plenty of Otis Vineyard fruit. Robert’s connection to Terry Herrmann, the vineyard manager for Otis, proved to be the key that unlocked these beautiful grapes.

Some of my original notes:
This bottle’s historical significance is intellectually interesting, for certain, and the juice inside may be even more interesting. For me, this wine delivers on the promise of Array’s inaugural vintage and enters the conversation of top Chardonnays in Washington (with Woodward Canyon, Abeja, Buty Conner Lee, Efeste Lola, and a handful of others I’m sure I’m forgetting). When I look into my crystal ball, I see a future where this wine’s tariff begins with a 4 or a 5. But not today!

Right from the first sniff, this one grabs your interest, because it has a real dusty/earthy component overlaying the stone fruit. My note says “nose has a clean funkiness, if that makes sense.” No, no it doesn’t, but it made sense to me at the time, so I’m sticking with it. Take a sip and you’ll find a live wire, a palate stainer, coating your mouth with plantain fruit, hazelnut, lemon oil, and sweet spice. It’s fleshy, earthy, concentrated; as seamless and complete a Chardonnay as I’ve tasted from Washington in some time.

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”

Since that original offer, Alder Yarrow of the well-respected blog Vinography had a chance to taste this and other Array wines at Taste Washington 2014. As you can see, he was wowed by this wine just like the rest of us.

First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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