No grape endures as much stylistic shifting as chardonnay, whose buttery, oak-driven side appeases the New World masses while critics rave about its Old World potential for bracing acidity and revelatory minerality. Today, countless California winemakers are discovering the sweet spot between those two extremes, so the state of chardonnay — especially from the Central Coast, where growing conditions are ideal — is extremely good, arguably better than ever before.
The best place to test that theory is this weekend at the Dolphin Bay Resort in Pismo Beach, where winemakers from the Napa Valley to Santa Barbara County and beyond will be on hand to pour their best bottles, quite often offering completely distinct styles made by the same winery. Among the dinners and grand tastings, there’s an educational panel on Saturday morning (moderated by yours truly) aimed at understanding how the grape is grown in a changing, climatically screwy world.
I tasted the eight wines being poured in advance and also asked the winemakers for their thoughts on the current chard trends. Here’s what they said, with wines listed in order of how they will be poured on Saturday.
Talley Vineyards: The pioneering Edna Valley winery makes wines that truly showcase the dirt in which they are grown, resulting in bright, vivid flavors. “This is probably the best time in history for California chardonnay,” said owner Brian Talley. “The diversity of place, vine age, and wine style yields an amazing array of truly world-class wines.” Pouring: Oliver’s Vineyard 2012 & Rosemary’s Vineyard 2012
Tolosa Winery: Tolosa is one of the Central Coast leaders in the stainless-steel chardonnay movement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean tight, sauvignon blanc-like wines. Their “Pure,” for instance, packs luscious fruit. While almost all of the growth in chardonnay sales has been with our No-Oak, what is most encouraging for me personally is the strengthening of respect for the Old World style: subtle, grippy, and complex,” said winemaker Larry Brooks. “The compliment I most like to hear about my own Tolosa wines is, ‘I don’t like California chardonnay in general, but I like this wine.’” Pouring: Pure 2012 & 569 2012
Hyde de Villaine: A globe- and generation-spanning collaboration between California’s Hyde family and Burgundy, France’s legendary Aubert de Villaine of Burgundy, France (considered by many the best winemaker in the universe), HdV produces wines with tongue-tantalizing acidity, built, like Burgundy’s best whites, for long-term aging though excellent now. “I believe various California chardonnay producers are becoming more comfortable with their expectations of what chardonnay can be (and will be) from their respective vineyard sites,” said president A.J. Fairbanks. “I see a gradual evolution where producers are allowing chardonnay to represent their vineyards, not their cellar. Ultimately, this leads to wines composed of the vineyard attributes allowing to better understand what chardonnay can truly be in California.” Pouring: Hyde Vineyard 2011 & Hyde Vineyard 2010
Bien Nacido: The Miller family, who founded this centerpiece property of the Santa Maria Valley more than 40 years ago, is now making wine under the Bien Nacido label, and the chardonnays bring a lot of everything to the table: rich fruit, bright acid, and fine oak, making for a cohesive experience. “Winegrowers who have, for decades, been making cool-climate chardonnays that highlight site and elegance instead of technique and flamboyance are being rediscovered,” said winemaker Trey Fletcher. “A younger generation of winemakers who recognize these innovators have steered American chardonnay toward a leaner, mineral-driven, and sometimes austere wine. For me, there is room for everyone at the table regardless of your preference.” Pouring: Bien Nacido Vineyard 2012 & Bien Nacido Vineyard 2010.
The 2014 Chardonnay Symposium is Friday-Saturday, May 16-17, at the Dolphin Bay Resort in Pismo Beach. See thechardonnaysymposium.com for information and tickets.