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For American wine lovers, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has long been synonymous with Pinot Noir. In fact, the home page of The Willamette Valley Wineries Association proudly proclaims in large type: “We Are Pinot Noir.”
But some believe that Chardonnay has even greater potential here. We’ve been in the Chardonnay camp ever since we tasted the first vintage of Evening Land’s two Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnays more than a decade ago. Those wines were the most exciting American Chardonnays we’d ever tasted, coming eerily close to great White Burgundy.
Chris and Kathryn Hermann went us one better. Not only did they believe in Chardonnay’s greater potential, they did something about it, becoming the Willamette Valley’s great Chardonnay specialist. And they did it the right way, identifying the valley’s greatest Chardonnay terroirs, focusing not only on the right soils, but also on the right clones. Dominique Lafon was among those who encouraged them, calling Willamette Valley Chardonnay “the best in the New World.”
Quietly, Chris and Kathryn began sourcing small amounts of fruit from a Who’s Who of Willamette vineyards, including Seven Springs, Chehalem Mountain, Eola Springs, Hyland and Open Claim—each its own ideal combination of exposure and Jory volcanic basalt and oceanic sedimentary soils.
But the Hermanns still had to crack the code for how to make Chardonnay that expresses the nuances of its terroirs, but with the texture and longevity of the great white Burgundies. As Chris told The Wine Advocate’s Erin Brooks, “I didn’t know how one takes Oregon fruit and creates something that has an echo of White Burgundy, especially the textural component. What makes Coche-Dury and Roulot what they are?"
Past is Prologue
In their inaugural 2015 vintage Chris and Kathryn made a total of 600 cases of wine. By 2016, when they made 1200 cases, they’d settled on a winemaking regime that’s straight out of Burgundy. And by the 2017 vintage, with a total of 2000 cases made, word really began to spread that they were on to something. Not only were they receiving 95, 96 and 97 point ratings throughout their portfolio, but one of their wines had been called "the best domestic Chardonnay ever made."
The project’s success was in a way pre-ordained. A second-generation Oregonian, Chris spent more than three decades doing vineyard deals as a lawyer in the Willamette Valley, learning its terroirs and its vineyards like the back of his hand. As a child, his father, a renowned plant geneticist at Oregon State, took him around to meet all the early Oregon greats. Talking with him is like going to class on the history of Oregon winemaking over the past 50 years.
“This is about pushing Chardonnay to its capacity.”
- Chris Hermann
Chris had had the dual privilege of drinking David Lett’s pioneering Eyrie Chardonnays from the 1960s, while spending his entire adult life drinking great White Burgundy. And so he had a sense of the possibilities. In fact, the name “Double Zero” comes from numerology, with zero representing an absence of limits, and double zero further emphasizing the limitless potential of their work.
In short, Chris and Kathryn weren’t satisfied just making excellent Oregon Chardonnay. They wanted the kind of magic you get in a glass of Roulot or Coche. And to get it, they linked up with one of the most brilliant winemakers in Burgundy, Pierre Millemann.
When Millemann began advising the Hermanns in 2015, he introduced them to “Black Chardonnay,” a winemaking technique that originated in Burgundy sometime in the early 20th century.
At the heart of the technique, in the hours after harvest, the grape must is exposed to a great deal of oxygen, which of course is contrary to how many in Burgundy and elsewhere handle Chardonnay today. In response to Burgundy’s battle with “premox” over the past quarter century, most winemakers handle Chardonnay with kid gloves, gently pneumatically pressing it and protecting it from oxygen by using nitrogen and sulfur.
But the Black Chardonnay method championed by Millemann—and used by Coche-Dury, Roulot and a handful of other White Burgundy greats—takes exactly the opposite approach. Double Zero’s Chardonnay is picked fully ripe, but at relatively low sugar levels, and the whole clusters are foot-crushed, chilled and macerated overnight. It then sees a long “heavy press cycle” with no sulfur additions.
The intent is maximum extraction of phenolics from the skins and seeds, capturing the essence of terroir and vintage in their aromatics and texture. The must goes into the press pan and immediately turns dark brown to black through oxidation of the molecules from the skins, hence the method’s name.
Protecting Against Oxidation
This dark must is then put into tanks in which the phenols then perform their next magical function: they are the major oxygen-consuming component in the must, and when they fall out of suspension, they take the dark color and oxidation with them.
The result is juice that—while retaining all of the complex aromatics, flavors and texture from the phenols—is astonishingly oxidation-resistant and fresh. The must goes straight to barrel, retaining all but the gross lees, for native-yeast fermentation and aging. The top wines develop for 18 months in barrel, gaining in complexity and richness of texture through contact with the thick layer of lees.
As Chris told The Somm Journal’s Michelle Metter, “It’s an incredible dance between human ideas and nature’s gifts. For us, this is about pushing Chardonnay to its capacity [and] producing distinctively textured and aromatic wines in a relentless pursuit of the extraordinary.”
2018 00 Chardonnay VGW
International Wine Report “94 rating … fabulous … This fantastic Chardonnay immediately draws you in with stunning aromatics of lemon curd, Asian pear, lime zest, flinty minerals, crushed stones and vanilla blossoms all taking shape in the glass. On the palate this is equally impressive, as it possesses a wonderful textural richness, which is beautifully cut with lovely underlying acidity and lovely minerality that balances it all out. Displaying striking purity and focus, this continues to thoroughly impress as it comes to an end with a gorgeous finish marked by citrus and stoney minerals. Overall, this is a beautiful bottle of Chardonnay from 00 that should continue to drink beautifully over the next decade.”
Nick Stock “94 rating. This just sings on the nose with intense grapefruit and a stony edge. Nougat and almond paste notes add complexity. The palate is richly textural with peaches, smooth honey and spice. Good grip. Intense.”
2018 00 Chardonnay EGW
John Gilman “94 rating … another absolutely stellar wine in the making … offers up a beautiful bouquet of apple, pear, a touch of iodine, a complex base of soil tones, fruit blossoms and just a touch of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and rock solid at the core, with a superb girdle of acidity, great focus and grip and a long, nascently complex and very, very promising finish. Like the 2017, this … should be decanted for thirty minutes if one is inclined to drink it now. It will age long and gracefully and is a very classy bottle … 2021-2040+”
International Wine Report “95 rating … another sensational showing … This absolutely gorgeous Chardonnay begins to impress with bright aromatics of white pear, lemon blossoms, flint, saline minerals and a touch of toasted hazelnut that all burst from the glass. The mouthfeel is simply stunning, displaying beautiful balance, with wonderful acidity and revealing an enticing saline mineral streak … While this is nothing short of absolutely stunning today, it should go on to offer enjoyment for well over a decade.”
Paul Gregutt, Wine Enthusiast: “94 rating. Riper and even juicier than the 2017 vintage, this retains the same creamy richness, with amped up fruit that runs from pear to peach to apricot and papaya. A blend of Wente and Dijon clones from two different vineyards, this incorporates luscious barrel flavors of caramel and toffee, with a lick of mocha trailing out the finish.”
Nick Stock “96 rating. This shows a very complete and complex style with a spectrum of very pure yellow citrus fruit to peach and pastry, as well as more savory, stony notes. The palate has convincing concentration and a fleshy build that carries ripe peachy flavors, as well as citrus. The oak is so well integrated. Drink over the next six years.”
2018 00 Chardonnay Chehalem Mountain
Erin Brooks “94+ rating … takes time to open on the nose. It's worth the wait, unfolding to gorgeous aromas of spring honey, hazelnuts, flint, pastry and a rich core of quince paste and floral perfume. Medium-bodied, the palate is incredibly silky, its broad, rich character refreshed by bright acidity, finishing elegantly and flavorful. This is a savory, mineral-driven Chardonnay that has the structure and flesh to give plenty more with bottle time. 54 cases were made.”
International Wine Report “96 rating … releases stunning aromas of sliced pear, white peaches, lemon oil, salted almond, crushed stones and a dusting of vanilla blossoms that all take shape. On the palate this is simply gorgeous, as it displays a beautiful texture, with the perfect balance of fruit, acidity and minerality that persists through the gorgeous finish, which is framed by a wonderful saline mineral character. This is without question one of the finest examples of Chardonnay from the region ….”
Jancis Robinson “17+/20 rating. Old Wente clone made by their ‘Black Chardonnay’ (fully oxidised initially) method and aged for 12 months in French oak (20% new) followed by six months in stainless steel on the fine lees. Tight, light grapefruit nose. Much less evolved than any of the 2017s – not surprisingly. Quite exciting tension and real depth to this wine that's clearly still too young. More than a suggestion of lemon cough pastilles. Great freshness with that trademark richness. A firm spine of real structure.”
2018 00 Chardonnay Freya Hermann Cuvée
Erin Brooks: “95+ rating … a barrel selection aged around 23 months in a single Damy puncheon. It is a touch youthfully closed, taking time to reveal floral perfume and yellow peaches with underlying exotic spices and herbs … explosive, concentrated flavors, silky, textural and fresh with a very long, uplifted, flinty finish. Only 50 cases were made.”
Paul Gregutt, Wine Enthusiast: “95 rating … aged for 23 months in a one-year-old French oak puncheon. It’s smooth as silk, a rich weave of apricot, melon and papaya fruit, with highlights of buttery pie crust and sweet spice. The nicely focused finish lingers for several minutes.”
International Wine Report: “99 rating. IWR’S TOP WINE OF 2020 … a homage to 00 Wines founder Chris Hermann’s mother, Freya … This thrilling Chardonnay slowly unwinds to release a stunning array of aromas that emerge beautifully from this glass, led by ripe white peach, asian pear, lemon oil, toasted hazelnut, flint and crushed stones, which are impossible to resist. The palate is simply striking, beautifully balanced, precise and focused, with layers of delicious fresh orchard fruit flavors that are framed by gorgeous minerality resonating throughout. This is an utterly captivating bottle of Chardonnay that is nothing short of mesmerizing today, but should also continue to evolve beautifully over the course of the next decade.”
Nick Stock: “98 rating. Striking aromas of sliced nectarine and white peach with flinty and spicy elements. Mouthwatering. The palate is impressively rich and pithy with good extract, fresh acidity and a gently creamy thread of honey, as well as ripe peach and nectarine. Holds long and freshens to such exquisite purity of fruit at the finish. Drink or hold.”
2018 00 Chardonnay Kathryn Hermann Cuvée
John Gilman “95+ rating … quite Meursault-like in personality in its early guise, delivering an aromatic constellation of pear, passion fruit, iodine, geranium-like floral tones, a beautiful base of chalky soil, incipient notes of the buttered nuttiness to come and a lovely foundation of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied, focused and shows off gorgeous mid-palate depth, with great precision and balance, zesty acids and a long, complex and very, very classy finish …. This is a stunning bottle of young chardonnay. Do not give into temptation and drink it too early in its evolution, as it has stunning potential! 2021-2045.”
Nick Stock: “97 rating. Beautifully vivid and pure lemon and grapefruit aromas here with a fine, flinty edge, together with sliced lime, wet stones and subtle hazelnut. The palate is striking for the concentration and fleshy build, as well as the way it maintains focus and holds the finish. A great chardonnay, every way you look at it.”
International Wine Report “98 rating … dazzling aromas of ripe white peach, Asian pear, lychee, key-lime pie, Meyer lemon, vanilla blossoms and toasted hazelnut that all come together to form the seductive nose. The mouthfeel is exceptional, displaying a gorgeous creamy texture with remarkable precision and striking balance, with an incredible combination of acidity and minerality. This continues to impress with its mouth-watering flavors of citrus, orchard fruits, saline and wet stones that float effortlessly across the palate into the succulent finish … an absolutely thrilling bottle of Chardonnay ….”
Jancis Robinson “17.5+/20 rating. Old Wente clone made by their ‘Black Chardonnay’ (fully oxidised initially) method and aged for 23 months in French oak (20% new) followed by six months in stainless steel on the fine lees. Essentially the same wine as the Chehalem Mountain but with another 11 months in oak. Very introvert but refined nose. Tingling excitement here. A certain Riesling build with the acidity more prominent than in the Chehalem Mountain 2018. Really very fine with just a little bit of steeliness. Bitter grapefruit pith on the finish – in a good way! This fruit can really stand a long stint in oak. Very persistent indeed.”
Erin Brooks “95+ rating … The nose is intoxicating with its slowly blossoming aromas of guava, honeycomb, roasted almonds and loads of floral perfume laced with flint and exotic spices. The palate is medium-bodied, rounded, broad, silky and seamlessly fresh with slowly opening, detailed flavor layers that extend through the very long, energetic finish. It's a beautifully expressive wine that offers savory, mineral-laced fruits with a frame that will carry it several years in bottle. 50 cases were made.”
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