by Fred McMillin
for May 4, 1998

In a Class by Itself


In my last blind tasting of white wines, the winner's rating was 21% higher than that of the second place wine. The usual margin is about 5%.

The Rest of the Story

The panel didn't know it, but the critics agreed with their assessment of what proved to be a 1995 Chardonnay. For example...

Robert Parker: "nicely executed, restrained, elegant."
James Laube: "Look for delicacy and finesse rather than sheer power, elegant, will age exceptionally well. FIVE STARS."

They are talking about Chateau St. Jean's Robert Young Vineyard 1995 Chardonnay, from the upper Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. Such quality is no suprise, once you know the winery's origins.

St. Jean Milestones

1974—Three wealthy Central Valley grape growers create the winery. Recognizing that the great European wines were associated with specific vineyards, they designed the winery to process the many lots of grapes separately, from crusher to bottler.

1980—Taking full advantage of this design, winemaker Richard Arrowood startles the wine world by bringing out nine different Chardonnays from one vintage.

1984—Founders Ken Sheffield, Robert Merzoian, and Edward Merzoian sell Chateau St. Jean for $40 million. Ownership first goes to Suntory (Japanese) and then Beringer. Critic Robert Balzer comments that the "Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay has brought the winery national fame."

1992—By now it's clear that the public likes St. Jean Chardonnays; production from all of their sources reaches 120,000 cases.

Our Wine of the Day

1995 Chardonnay, Robert Young Vnyd., Alexander Vly.
Chateau St. Jean Winery, Kenwood, CA.
Alcohol Content—Would you believe, 15.2%!
Winemaking—Smoothed out with 14 months on the lees (flavor-laden sediment) in French oak, plus about one year of bottle age.
Contact—Public Relations Manager
Nicole Breier at (707) 833-4134
Price—$24 range


As to the name, pronounce it St. "jeen," not St. "zhah." The winery was named after the wife of one of the co-founders wives, Mrs. Jean Merzoian.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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