Happy Chardonnay Day!
Yes, its true May 26th is a National Chardonnay Day, a festive date completely devoted to the precious golden colored grape grown in medium to cool climate areas around the globe. And I’m happy to say there is more to celebrate about Chardonnay than ever before!
In addition to the highly successful Chardonnay Symposium held in San Lis Obispo in mid May; this year represent the 40-year anniversary of when the Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay won over the won over the top
producers of Burgundy at the famous “Judgment of Paris” tasting.
At the time of the Paris tasting, there were just over a thousand acres planted in California. Over the next decade, the number rose 7,000 acres. But the real turning point came in 1988, when the 45,000 acres planted primarily in the interior and coastal regions of California finally surpassed the amount planted in Burgundy.
Of course, there were pluses and minus along the way. On the good side, the special version of Wente clones developed by Wente Vineyards and university of California Davis became the dominate grape planted in almost 75 percent of the Chardonnay vineyards in California.
In the cellars, Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma developed a special heating and cooling system that made it possible to make it possible for all wineries to create creamy flavors through the process of malo-lactic fermentation. They were also the first to use French oak barrels to create more expressive and ageworthy wines with more complex nuances of wood and spice.
While many of these historic wineries continued to produce world class wines. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the styles in the bigger US market started to shift towards big fat butterball styles highlighted by overripe flavors of baked apples, pears, tropical fruit, vanilla, a heavy creamy or buttery texture, and a good helping of oak to slam the point home. In turn, the true natural flavor and versatile character of the grape variety was lost in transition to many consumers.
But just when you though all hope was lost; Chardonnay has come back to being one of the most talked about grape varieties in restaurants and wine shops across the nation. We can thank a lot of the great brands who are focused on making wines with bright fruit flavors, vibrant acidity, and elegant natural texture. In a nutshell, the artistry of working with the grape is back!
“Every decision you make in the vineyard or the cellars is another brushstroke,” says winemaker Matt Crafton of Chateau Montelena. “So it’s really more about the judicious use of paint on that canvas, or else you can completely overwhelm the wine.”
Over the next month, look for my upcoming stories in the SOMM Journal, Napa Sonoma Magazine and other publications that are focused on my seminars and top picks from The Chardonnay Symposium; inside looks at Chateau Montelena and Bacigalupi Vineyards, which provided 40% of the Chardonnay grapes that went into the 1973 vintage that won the Pairs Tasting; Champagne producers specializing in working with Chardonnay; and detailed interviews with star winemakers, vintners, and growers who are passionate about working with this noble grape with a golden hue. In the meantime, cheers to drinking more Chardonnay every day!