Thursday, June 13, 2013

The ABCs of Oregon Chardonnay: Anything But California

Oregon winemakers were just getting the hang of Chardonnay in the Pacific Northwest right at about that time in the mid-nineties when the New York Times popularized the declaration “A.B.C.,” Anything But Chardonnay – great. A.B.C. served as a general rule-of-thumb in a time when the market was awash with Chardonnay, leaving other white wines forgotten and underappreciated. Even today as a wine consumer, A.B.C. meant “Anything But Chardonnay” to me, until the inaugural Oregon Chardonnay Symposium, where I realized it didn’t all have to taste like a mouthcoat of butter, and I’m still working on my ability to assertively order it aloud in dining establishments. Where the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir cloud casts shadows, there is something truly remarkable about the Chardonnay being produced here, and the word is just getting out.

Last month, Red Ridge Farms hosted their 2nd Annual Oregon Chardonnay Symposium, featuring the wines of several producers who continue to explore and experiment with the grapes’ ever-developing relationship with Oregon soil. Moderator Katherine Cole, wine columnist for The Oregonian, facilitated a mixed panel of wine media members and wineries Arterberry Maresh, Big Table Farm, Crowley Wines, Division Winemaking Company, Durant Vineyards, EIEO & Company, Matello Wines and Walter Scott Wines. Attendees were presented with an elaborate flight of limited production Chardonnay from each of the featured wineries, with discussion focused on methodology and production, represented in a thorough spreadsheet of clone types, barrel types, and yeast and fermentation methods.

Oregon is fairly new, albeit adept, at producing Chardonnay, though likely just scratching the surface of its potential now that solid, mature Chardonnay vines are in place. Ken Pahlow of Walter Scott Wines posited that perhaps “some of the greatest Oregon spots haven’t been planted or discovered yet.” Pursuing events similar to the Symposium, which encourage discussion of technique, terroir, and general exchanging of information only further the exploration of production variables, making each vintage a delicious and formidable experiment.

With some trepidation, I venture into this “new age” of Chardonnay, a firm grasp on my “Only Oregon” mantra – they just know what they’re doing, hands down. I strongly suggest the rest of us A.B.C.ers follow suit.

Among the featured wines, the two below were most notable on my palate, both priced at around $40. Only 56 cases of each were produced:

Matello Wines, 2010 Richard’s Cuvee Chardonnay – incredibly bright, crisp and fruity, great for those of us with a bit of a sweet tooth. This wine truly highlights the essence of the fruit both on the nose and palate. These grapes were derived from Dijon clones 76 and 96, planted in 1998 – barreled in two neutral, one new (air-dried). Read more about Marcus Goodfellow and Matello Wines on the Anthem here.

Crowley Wines, 2010 Four Winds Chardonnay– tropical on the nose, bright & almost sparkling. These grapes were derived from 20-year-old Dijon clones 76 and 96, and barreled in air-dried new and neutral puncheons.

Others included in the technical tasting:
Arterberry Maresh, 2005 Maresh Chardonnay (150 cases)
Big Table Farm, 2011 Chardonnay (136 cases)
Division Winemaking Company, 2011 Division Chardonnay (80 cases)
Durant Vineyards, 2011 Raven Chardonnay (125 cases)
EIEO & Company, 2011 Chardonnay (31 cases)
Walter Scott, 2011 Cuvee Anne Chardonnay (56 cases)


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