Sip and Savor: Dorothy Jean makes a debut

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Janis Denner and Amy Butler at the launch of Dorothy Jean at Pelletiere Estate Vineyard & Winery
Photos by Mira Honeycutt

-Dorothy Jean is not a pop star or a Broadway ingénue but rather a chardonnay collaboration between winemaker Amy Butler, founder of Ranchero Cellars and vintner Janis Denner, proprieter of Pelletiere Estate Vineyard & Winery.

How come the queen of Rhône-style wines (Butler) and the diva of Italian varieties (Denner) are stepping into chardonnay territory?

“I love chardonnay,” Butler said simply. Paso’s popular winemaker best known for her red Rhône style wines and a couple of classy whites such as a viognier and her grenache blanc/clairette blanche blend, has been harboring a passion for chardonnay for sometime. That passion comes through in the 2016 Dorothy Jean, a deliciously textured chardonnay showing delicate traces of oak with a clean finish.

Denner concurred that she loves chardonnay. “And I was excited about collaborating with talented women.” Grapes for their chardonnay are sourced from the storied Sierra Madre vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s cool climate appellation of Santa Maria Valley. Butler opted for Sierra Madre vineyard because of its location and the fact that she could select the vineyard parcel.

“It’s a tiny little south facing slope and it seems like a perfect cool climate for chardonnay,” she remarked. “It has good acidity and fruit flavor.” The winemaker is satisfied with the results. “I knew the style I wanted, so I’m thrilled to find my prescription worked.”

Dorothy Jean chardonnay

And what is the prescription? The barrel-fermented wine is aged in 30 percent new French oak, the rest neutral oak for nine months. “It’s pretty straight forward winemaking, nothing fancy,” remarked Butler matter-of-factly.

Butler, who launched her own label Ranchero Cellars in 2008, came on board as winemaker for Pelletiere Estate Vineyard & Winery in 2014. 
“Chardonnay became our go-to wine while brainstorming or in after hours meeting,” Butler said of her chardonnay partnership with Denner. While Butler’s palate runs more toward a leaner white Burgundy or Chablis-style wine, Denner is a fan of Rombauer, Napa Valley’s popular chardonnay known for its rich buttery mouthfeel. Dorothy Jean (combination of both their middle names) has resulted in an ideal synthesis between the duo’s palates.

Otherwise Pelletiere’s focus has been on Italian varieties. The sustainably-farmed estate grown grapes range from nebbiolo and sangiovese to lagrein and montepulciano. But this being Paso, Pelletiere also produces a crowd-pleasing syrah, zinfandel and viognier from its estate fruit.

Dorothy Jean’s artistic label is designed by noted California impressionist Erin Hanson and the wine’s release with an all-female team collaboration couldn’t have come at a more opportune time when female empowerment message is at front and center in the media. To that extent, the team is using the powerful “I am her” mantra on corks and other promotions at their release parties.

The limited release production is a mere 130 cases, half of which has already been pre-sold, Butler informed that they plan to continue keeping the production small. The team is staging special release receptions at various Paso locations where the wine can be sampled and purchased as 3, 6 or 12-bottle packs. The next reception is scheduled for Nov. 3rd at 15C Wine Bar.

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