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WINEMAKER: ED KILLIAN

Chateau Chardonnay
ED KILLIAN HAS CHATEAU SOUVERAIN BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT

INTHEBARREL By THOM ELKJER

Who says there’s nothing good on television? Once upon a time, Ed Killian was in his college apartment, dissecting a white rat for a physiology class. In the background, his TV was tuned to a documentary about a then-obscure college in California’s Central Valley. Killian, a biology major, looked up when the program showed students in a science lab. But these students weren’t smelling formaldehyde. They were sniffing wine.

The college was UC Davis, now known as America’s pre-eminent school for winemakers, and Killian wasted no time. “I drove up to Davis after school got out and found a professor in the food science department,” he recalls. “My first question was, Do people get jobs making wine?” Told that they did, Killian enrolled and got his masters degree in 1978. He then entered the winemaking workforce just before the wine boom of the 1980s—crowning Chardonnay king of white wine in America—began.

After a decade at Lambert Bridge Winery in Dry Creek Valley, Killian moved to Chateau Souverain, located in nearby Alexander Valley, as associate winemaker. In 1995, he became winemaker in his own right. Since then, he has been instrumental in restoring the winery’s long-lost luster. Chateau Souverain Sonoma County Chardonnay 2003 ($15) is once again a benchmark for mid-priced Chard, and the Chateau Souverain Russian River Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay 2002 ($25) is the equal of top-rated wines costing three or four times as much.

One key has been Killian’s focus on buying his Chardonnay grapes from superior sources. “My goal has always been to go for the best vineyards in a variety of areas,” he says. “This makes our wine more complex, and it also spreads out our harvest. Different vineyards mature at different times, so we can give the fruit from each site the special attention it deserves when it arrives at the winery.” The Sonoma County bottling, for example, combines grapes from wind-chilled vineyards in the Carneros region near San Francisco Bay, fog-cooled sites in Russian River Valley and sun-drenched parts of the Alexander Valley.

Another important factor in Chateau Souverain’s success with Chardonnay is Killian’s willingness to experiment. “I never had some famous winemaking icon for a boss,” he notes, “so I had to figure a lot of stuff out for myself.” Winemakers have developed a wide range of techniques for making Chardonnay over the past two decades, such as pressing grapes whole rather than crushing them first, and stirring the lees (dead yeast cells) while wine ages in oak barrels. After trying these techniques and many others, Killian has selected those that work best for the fruit he takes in. “I have a style I’m shooting for in my head,” he admits. “It’s not a copy of anything else. It’s more like the best features of the best wines I’ve had over the years.”

He loves his winemaking life for a similar reason. “The whole agrarian lifestyle is wonderful, and then on top of that I get to work with biological processes to produce a product that transcends both agriculture and biology,” he explains. “And wine also has incredibly deep cultural and historical roots. Where else can you get all that in one job?”

 


MAR/APR 2005
TABLE OF CONTENTS

FEATURE ARTICLES
FOOD & WINE
Grilled New York Steak
Sonoma Citrus Chicken Salad
Merlot Makes it Big
Chardonnay, Pick Your Passion
Winemaker: Danielle Cyrot
Winemaker: Ed Killian
Wine Picks - MERLOT
Wine Picks - CHARDONNAY
ON THE RADAR
SOCIAL TOAST
BITS & BITES


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