A Paper Executive Turns His Passion For Wine Into a True Family Business

And You Don’t Have to be His Mother to Love This Chardonnay


There are a lot of great family-owned wineries out there, and Donelan Family Wines is one of them. Founder Joe Donelan fell in love with wine in the 1980s, inspired by an inspired sommelier on Nantucket. From there, the paper industry executive made his way to California, where he put together a team and gave them the goal of producing Syrah and Rhone varietals. Thus was born Donelan Family Wines.

The elder Donelan is still at the helm, and two of his sons, Tripp and Cushing, take care of the organization’s sales and marketing divisions.

Donelan now produces Syrah, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Roussanne, Viognier, and Chardonnay, and the latter is on my mind today, because a few days ago I tasted the 2014 Nancie Chardonnay from the producer, and, in addition to the story behind the naming of the wine, what’s in the bottle is worthy of your cellar.

Joe Donelan’s passion for wine led him to California, and to the helm of a family-owned labor of love. (Courtesy Donelan Family Wines)

First, the name. This Chardonnay was named after Joe Donelan’s mother, Nancie (a look at the list of wines produced by Donelan will tell you that family members are commemorated here, a nice touch). As for the wine itself, the 2014 vintage is decidedly not an overly “oaked” Chardonnay, but what it is is full of citrus and melon aromas. Its minerality is understated but bracing, and a taste delivers a bit of brioche and nice stone fruit, say, an underripe peach. The finish lingers, in a pleasant way.

I happened to have some baked ham on hand when I opened the Nancie, and this wine paired wonderfully with it. I would also recommend drinking it with butter-poached lobster or sea bass with lemon sauce.

Donelan sources the grapes for this wine from three vineyards; two of them are on Sonoma Mountain, and the third is a Russian River Valley parcel boasting 30-plus year-old vines. The percentage of new oak here is 20, the alcohol clocks in at 14 percent, and 1,947 cases were produced. Stainless steel and neutral oak, plus concrete, are also in the mix. Its retails for $48. Drink now, or by 2020.

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