In the same room in which Aubert de Villaine was awarded “Decanter Man of the year” a couple of years ago we had a great dinner to showcase the wines of Hyde de Villaine. The beginning of this venture came in 2000 when the de Villaine family from Burgundy and the Hyde family of Carneros, California, decided to work together on a family run project in Carneros. Larry Hyde, Hyde Vineyard’s manager, is cousin to Aubert de Villaine’s wife Pamela. Aubert is very well-known in the world of wine as Director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and co-owner of Domaine A&P de Villaine in Bouzeron in Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise. So this combination of very varied skills and experience, has a lot of practicality, logic and most importantly family inspired drive about it. In fact with the exception Stéphane Vivier, the winemaker from Burgundy, the entire organisation is family.
We then went downstairs for dinner and after an introduction from Adam (Brett-Smith) it was time for Aubert to give a little historical insight into the property and for Charles “AJ” Fairbanks to introduce the next pair of wines. But first Charles said that he felt the project was about making “Californian wines with a Burgundian philosophy”. The first pair of dinner wines were Hyde Chardonnay 2008 & 2009. Both come from approximately 30year old plots planted from 1979 onwards and interestingly are planted the “wrong way round” i.e north south when the normality of the time was east-west. So the two wines; the 2008 was from a warmer/more normal vintage, it showed lemon shortbread fruit and a savoury yeasty edge to it, rich but not heavy. The 2009 was cooler as a vintage and this shows. It was a real star, a little closed initially on the nose it opened out and shone brightly. Very much a burgundian style, all about the texture and elegant depth, delicious. That pair was matched with braised winter vegetables with roasted chestnut and buttermilk dressing which worked well.
With cheese the Californio Syrah was next, 2006 and 2008 were the vintages. This is the smallest production wine they make and in fact was never planned from the outset but the Syrah they produced was very pleasing so why not? The plot is 15-20 years old. The 2006 and 2008 vintage are similar stylistically in terms of climatic conditions. In introducing the Syrahs Aubert coined a new tasting term, to me anyway, in describing the African market spices he finds in these wines as “souk”. There is a combination of production methods here with 2006 and 2008 being made from a combination of both open and closed vat batches. The wines contrasted each other well, the 2006 had a bit of the animal about it with a slight funky stink (in a good way) as only Syrah really can. The 2008 being a purer fruit expression at this stage. Both had an “intensity and an energy” as Aubert put it.
The atmosphere of the evening was great, lively and lots of debate and interest. If I had to take one white and one red away to drink I would go for HdV Chardonnay 2009 and Belle Cousine 2007 for their excellent balance and simple enjoyments. I think it is very fair to say this tiny estate is only just starting to reach where it will go and as a result remains a little under the radar…that in itself is very exciting!