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Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for August 25, 2000


Winery of the Week

Top Bill Chalk Hill


"Chalk Hill in Sonoma County is a classy producer of rich Chardonnay, stylish Sauvignon Blanc and lovely, berryish Cabernet Sauvignon."

...Robert Joseph's 1999 Good Wine Guide

"Chalk Hill's soil contains no chalk!"

...Our WineDay, February 9, 1998

Wait a minute. Chalk Hill without chalk?? Let's go back to the beginning.

The Rest of the Story

Chalk Hill  
200 Million Years Ago—A volcano lays down a thick layer of white ash southeast of today's Healdsburg. (Quite different is chalk, formed under the sea from deposits of tiny sea shells. It is relatively soft, crumbly limestone.)

1974—San Francisco attorney Fred Furth buys a 650-acre ranch with an unusual layer of white soil. Before long he plants 40 acres of vines.

1980—Mark Lingenfelder is hired as vineyard manager. While winemakers will change, he will remain and provide steadily improving grape quality.

1986—Fred and Peggy Furth have started making wine labeled Donna Maria Vineyards, with a second label, Chalk Hill. This year they drop Donna, and all future labels read Chalk Hill.

1989 Vintage—The Chardonnay is attracting much attention. I give it top marks in the San Francisco Independent. The Wine Spectator gives it a resounding 90 rating.

1990 Vintage—I hold a private tasting with Master Sommelier Steve Morey of San Francisco landmark Ernie's Restaurant. He's very enthusiastic about the Chalk Hill '90 Chardonnay. He recommends pairing it with steamed sea bass brushed with mustard sauce and served in a mushroom crust. Mercy!

The Marketing Manager, Diana Burnett, wrote me about that 1990: "We knew we had a world-class wine when it sold out in eight months." She was right. I notice the 1997 got a super 92 rating by the Spectator.

Beautiful Blancs, Too

We have a Sauvignon Blanc scheduled for an upcoming blind tasting. It's almost certain to do well. Critic Bob Thompson says that nearly every vintage Chalk Hill's Sauvignon Blanc is its brightest star. So here's our...

Winery of the Week

Chalk Hill Winery
10300 Chalk Hill Road
Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California, 95448
Phone (707)838-4306, FAX (707)838-9687
Winemaker—Veteran Saintsbury winemaker Bill Knuttel took over at Chalk Hill in 1996 and is busily raising the quality of the estate-grown Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We'll be tasting some soon and will report back.

Postscript —More Chalk Talk (Pardon My Dust)

So what's the source of that white volcanic ash on Chalk Hill? Author James Halliday tells us some believe it came from once-active Mt. Saint Helena in the rival Napa Valley!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.


This page created August 2000