I’ve been doing this for a long time. You know, this wine thing. Seems
like almost everywhere I lived I have found myself near “wine country”.
And now having spent the last 30+ years in the Willamette Valley… well
it doesn’t get much better for a wine lover. So it should go without
saying that I have had the chance to taste (read, DRINK) a lot of really
good wine over the years. As time goes on it would seem that it should
be harder to have those surprising, eye opening, get you thinking
moments. You would think that I have tried it all. Thankfully, that is not
the case and I love when I am offered the chance to experience
something new. That varietal you’ve never had the chance to taste.
That region you’ve never been to. That legendary producer you only
dream of one day trying…
Well this post is not about any one of those. It is, in fact, maybe the
polar opposite. It is about a very familiar grape, grown just about
everywhere, that you can buy from under $10 to over $1000 per bottle.
Yep, I’m talking Chardonnay.
This past weekend I was out visiting the tasting room at one of my
favorite local wineries and was privileged to taste through no less than
eight very good wines. Not a bad one among them. A couple were a
notch above the rest. But the stand out? The one that solicited the most
conversation? The one that stuck in my head? Yep, Chardonnay. 2013
vintage from grapes grown here in the valley, produced here in Oregon.
Let’s just say it was really, really tasty. I won’t bore you with the geek
speak. Whether it is preferable to produce your Chardonnay in oak
barrels or stainless tanks. To let it go through malo or not. This
particular wine was what I call a 50/50. And I think that is why it has
such broad appeal.
The Willamette Valley should make great Chardonnay. For all the same
reasons that it makes great Pinot. But, like any great wine growing
region, it is about figuring out what grows best, which chardonnay
clones, which soil types, which micro climates…. And then planting,
cultivating and harvesting accordingly. After that, it is all about putting
that fruit in the hands of the artists (some call them winemakers) and
letting them work their magic. This knowledge and what to do with it
comes over time. Therefore, it does not surprise me that some of the
more memorable Chardonnays currently being produced in Oregon are
coming from some of the oldest producers… wineries like Eyrie, Bethel
Heights, Ponzi, and Adelsheim. That’s not to say that you have to have
been doing this a long time to get it right. Not at all, there are too many
really yummy wines being turned out by some of our newest producers
as well. I am simply saying that one of the things we do brilliantly in
Oregon is learn. We pay attention to the lessons of time. We respect the
path laid out by those that walked it before us. We listen to each other,
share and take risks. And having lived in all those places, talked to all
those winemakers and drunk all that wine… well that seems to be the
universal journey to great wine.
Chardonnay rarely gets it’s due. I totally understand. If I had a dollar
for every glass of disappointing Chardonnay… well…
But, as some of you know, I have a bit of a history with bubbly. Methode
Champenoise to be precise. Which means I have a special relationship
with the traditional grapes of Champagne, particularly Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay. And I think that is why I always take special note when
some producer takes one of those varietals and turns it into a
memorable tasting experience, bubbles not withstanding. So thank you
to all of you Oregon wineries who are not afraid to show the world that
Chardonnay is for real. And to you winemakers who are not afraid of
risking your name and hard earned reputation on yet another
Chardonnay. And to all those consumers out there who are open
minded enough to give that server in the tasting room a chance when
they say “and the next wine you are tasting is a delicious Willamette
And, finally, a shout out to Jim and Wendy at Walnut Ridge who served
me that 2013 Sass Chardonnay on Sunday and prompted this post.
Definitely worth a visit by any wine lover. Tell them I sent you!