Two Generations Team Up to Make Fine Wine: Ortman Family Winery

ortmanMr. Chardonnay makes great Chardonnay. That’s not surprising.

But he’s pretty good with Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, too.

So who is “Mr. Chardonnay?” He’s a winemaker named Chuck Ortman, once a consulting winemaker for big-name Napa Valley wineries such as Shafer, Cain and Far Niente. He was given his nickname by Wine Spectator magazine because he helped make California Chardonnay great. Among his successes was the 1973 Chardonnay he made for Spring Mountain winery. It was chosen to be one of just 10 wines from California and France that were entered in the famous Paris tasting of 1976.

Remember that? That’s the tasting where California Chardonnay and Bordeaux-style blends seriously kicked French butt.

So fast-forward 35 years to the Central Coast of California. Chuck is now Winemaster at Ortman Family Winery in San Luis Obispo, working side by side with his son, Matt. The second generation of the Ortman winemaking dynasty (dare I call it that?) put in his time learning the winemaking trade in Italy. He apprenticed at Castello di Gabbiano, and I’m grateful for that: it taught him how to make a kick-ass Cal-Ital wine, Ortman’s O2 Sangiovese.

But I digress. Let’s look at the Ortman line, as we tasted it at a wine dinner we hosted recently.

The Ortman Family Edna Valley Chardonnay 2007 is a classic. It truly represents the winery’s stated mission, which is to produce wines that are “balanced, elegant and food-friendly.” This is Mr. Chardonnay’s wine, who believes in manipulating the fruit as little as possible and letting its natural character shine. That means it’s not classic California style: the French oak is subtle and well-integrated, and the natural acid keeps it crisp even while the fruit is rich. I was in Chardonnay heaven: this is “White Burgundy” style Chardonnay made with ripe, rich California fruit.

Ortman Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinor Noir 2007 was another special treat. We’ve all heard that the 2007 vintage was blessed by the wine critics, and named the “best ever” for California Pinot Noir. Here’s how our wonderful ambassador from Ortman Family Winery, Ron Rawlinson, put it: “This vintage was a gift from the Wine Gods. Everything was perfect. All we had to do was not screw it up.”

And they didn’t. The bottle opens with a classic nose of cherry and smoke, and then develops into a palate of soft black cherry and plum, with a refined minerality on the finish.

Next we tried Ortman’s O2 line, which showcases Italian and Rhone varietals. The Ortman O2 Sangiovese 2008 was the big-time sleeper of the evening: it was a no-name wine when folks walked in the door, and a “fan favorite” when they walked out. Sangiovese is, of course, the signature varietal of Italy’s Chianti region. And Chianti, whether it’s a cheap-and-cheerful $9 bottle in a straw basket, or a $40 Reserve bottling, is by nature a “food wine”.  The grape is blessed with naturally high acid levels, which make it the perfect accompaniment to Italian tomato-based dishes (because tomatoes also feature lots of acid.)   We tasted Matt Ortman’s Sangiovese with a Smoked Mozarella Ravioli in Red Sauce, and it was a match made in heaven…

But let’s not forget Ortman’s O2 Eddy’s Cuvee 2007. Our friend Ron donned a dreadlock wig and tie-dye t-shirt to emphasize the point: Cuvee Eddy is an exotic and fun wine. Made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah.  it’ll appeal to the folks who like rich, plush wines.  It’s hedonistic while staying just this side of “jammy.” Did I mention that I loved it!

We finished with Ortman Family Vineyards Margarita Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. Once again, this wine was off the charts. It had loads of rich dark berry fruit, tobacco and cocoa, without being too heavy or high in alcohol. The balance was perfect, and I appreciated it after having consumed four previous wines…

I encourage you to try these wines,m even though you’ll miss the food-and-wine experience we enjoyed. Give any one of them a try, and let me know what you think.

Viva Central Coast, and Cheers!

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