FIFTEEN VINEYARDS, each of different geological conformation and microclimate, are the structure of the wines of Chateau Souverain in Sonoma County. On a recent visit to the Geyserville winery, I stood--with wine master Tom Peterson and winery representative Michael Florian--in front of a topographical map of the diverse regions from which the grapes had come. Peterson and Florian helped me relate wine to soil and fermentation science, and I sampled the unreleased 1987 components of Chateau Souverain's ultimate blending, underscoring the benefits of layered complexity of Chardonnay over the restrictive nature of "estate-grown" wines. The grapes involved had come from the 2,000-foot-high rocky hillsides of the Oak Ridge vineyard at Alexander Valley and provided intense tastes and fleshy structure; from the San Giacomo vineyard in the Carneros region, with French oak barrel-fermentation and rounder mouth-feel; and from the Vail Vista vineyard, also in the Alexander Valley, contributing citrusy, almost tangerine, tastes to the emerging Chardonnay.
The Chateau Souverain winery, founded in the Napa Valley in the 1940s by the late Lee Stewart, began taking its present shape in the '70s. That was when architect John Marsh Davis juxtaposed, on one hand, French country-style architecture, and on the other, two prominent towers inspired by Sonoma hop kilns to create a structure that won an AIA design-excellence award in 1974. The multimillion-dollar facility was sold several times and became, in 1986, the property of Wine World, one of Nestle of Switzerland's well-financed holdings in California, others of which include Beringer in the Napa Valley.