2021 Maître de Chai Sparkling Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, California, USA

On the nose, the wine shows notes of scallion, daffodil and quince. On the palate, the wine is refreshing, like biting into a slice of underripe Asian pear.


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The grapes are sourced from the Wilson Vineyard just south of Clarksburg, in the Sacramento River Delta. Over the last several years, the Wilson family has converted this parcel of Chenin Blanc at the Woods Ranch over to organic farming. The vines were planted in 1998 and the hallmark of the site is electric acidity.

For the production of this wine, the classical Méthode Champenoise was used, with a shorter élevage. The wine aged for six months in a combination of stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. Tirage took place in February 2020. The wine was riddled and disgorged in July 2020 with a dosage of two grams per liter. The winemakers employed a short élevage with the intention of producing an approachable American sparkling wine and to showcase the versatility of Chenin Blanc in California.


Maître de Chai translates to cellar master, or the person responsible for the development and aging of wine. By extension, the humble cellar master is the person responsible for the management of the winery.

After working in some of California’s top kitchens including Cyrus, Quince, and the French Laundry, two former chefs, Marty Winters and Alex Pitts, decided to trade in their whites and in 2012 they founded Maitre de Chai. Today, Alex and Marty are joined by their respective partners, Stephanie Pitts (all things web) and Jessica Force (creative director, tasting room), who have helped grow Maître de Chai into one of the most dynamic independent wineries in California.

Marty and Alex’s wine falls under what has been coined “The New California Wine”. Like others under that umbrella, they are taking a good dose of inspiration from California's centuries old winemaking traditions. But unlike many of their contemporaries, who tend to focus on esoteric varieties often planted in far off locals, they craft their wares from the varieties and regions that we associate with California’s vinous golden age; the 1970s. And like those wines they are looking for a certain sense of balance. That means lower alcohol, straightforward and honest winemaking with restrained fruit allowing the qualities of each of the phenomenal sites they work with to shine through.

They source all of their fruit from family growers, many of them multigenerational. Almost all of the fruit they work with is organic, much of it coming from old-vines. Working with such dedicated gower is the key to their success. After all, their calling card is an uncompromising commitment to sourcing only the highest quality fruit, a carryover from Alex and Marty’s ingredient-driven ethos as chefs. I and many others have said time and time again; the best wine is made in the vineyard.

As the name implies, the winemakers care for the wines in the cellar. They defer to nature, limiting intervention. They taste and wait, allowing the wines to develop and speak for the places in which they are rooted.


Grape(s) Chenin Blanc
Farming Organic