Is Oregon chardonnay the next big thing?
Gina Birch, Special to The News-Press 10:02 a.m. EDT March 22, 2016
When you think of Oregon wines, the first thing that mostly likely comes to mind is pinot noir and possibly pinot gris, but certainly not chardonnay.
Well times are a changin'.
The reason Oregon chardonnays have bombed in the past is because the wrong kind of clones were being used according to Stephen Lawrence, Director of Distribution Sales for Adelsheim Vineyard, one of the oldest wineries in the state.
The chardonnay clones were from California where the weather is decidedly warmer; the grapes just couldn’t get ripe in Oregon. So 15 years ago, David Adelsheim went to Burgundy, France where the climate is often compared to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
He brought back two chardonnay clones and shared with fellow winemakers including those from Ponzi, another pioneering winemaking family in Willamette. It was a collaborative rather than a competitive effort, to find success with this grape.
Lawrence says, “It’s sort of like a band of brothers between the wineries, like the expression the rising tide lifts all boats.”
It took about 10 years for the vines to produce enough to bottle and then the winemakers had to figure out what percentages and kinds of oak brought out the best in the grapes during aging.
The wines generally have more minerality than those from Burgundy and more up-front fresh fruit than California. They are typically lighter, have lower alcohol and higher acidity. Lawrence says, “We think this is how chard should taste.”
Adelsheim’s 2014 Willamette Valley Chardonnay has a floral yet crisp nose, apple. In the glass there is a nice balance between the fresh fruit and acid, with gentle spices on the finish. ($35 range)
The 2012 Caitlin’s Reserve Chardonnay spends more time aging and has more oak; you can tell by its creamy smell, like a tropical pie. It is round and acidic with a hint of citrus and spice. ($45 range)
I ordered a bottle of the 2013 Ponzi Chardonnay Reserve for comparison but sadly it did not reach me by deadline. I’m told it’s zesty and fantastic. I’ll let you know.
Although I’m fascinated by the development of chardonnay in Oregon, I would be remiss not to mention Adelsheim’s amazing pinot noirs.
The 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a textbook bottling from this area. The nose is beautiful; silky red fruits, cherry cola and rose petals. On the palate you get bright red fruit, earthiness and some allspice.
The 2012 Elizabeth Reserve Pinot Noir is one of the oldest premium pinots produced in Oregon and is Adelsheim’s bread and butter according to Lawrence who calls it “the ultimate expression of Oregon pinot.” A blend of power and elegance with blueberry, blackberry and black raspberries, it dances on the palate.
Wine column: Pinot noir with a purpose
When I scoured the shelves of local wine stores and the lists of local restaurants for Oregon chardonnay, I found very few—it’s only 3 percent of what the state grows. However, Lawrence is convinced that will be changing in the next few years. He says, “There is a renewal of Oregon chardonnay and we are hoping to bring it to the level of our pinot. We feel the future of Oregon is chardonnay.”
Inside scoop is to keep your eye out for these wines and grab them when you see them. It will be fun to see how they continue to evolve and they are perfectly suited for Florida cuisine. Cheers.