…. a more appropriate title might be: How I Managed to Taste Over 60 Oregon Chardonnays in less than 24 hours.
So that happened.
I had planned to approach this post in a different way. Originally I had made it my mission to take detailed tasting notes on every wine that was open. It didn’t take but 5 minutes into the Grand Tasting to realize that that wasn’t going to happen. My brain was buzzing from all the information and thoughts expressed at the technical panel, and I really wanted to simply enjoy the roomful of Chardonnay I was in, in a purely experiential fashion. Of course, I will share some standouts and tasting notes, but I’ve had a full 48 hours to process the event and I think my words can be better served to express the tone, energy and real message of the event. So lets get started.
The theme of the Symposium this year was Attack of the Clones. This might not mean much to your average sipper of wine, but this topic served as a backdrop to what ended up being, to me, the real theme of the day.
So take a step back with me, if you will. Think about the first real story or conversation you took part in or overheard about Oregon Chardonnay. Did it go something like this? “Yeah, they’ve always had Chardonnay in Oregon, but in the beginning they planted all the wrong clones and so it sucked for a long time, until they figured out which ones to use. Now its pretty good. I mean, its getting better.”
Yes? Well… here’s the thing. Thats not entirely correct. The first speaker of the day, Jason Lett, started the day out with a bang by offering up a few quotes dating back to the 1970’s affirming Oregon as a legitimate place to produce Chardonnay. I’m paraphrasing, but in 1975 the LA Times was quoted as saying Oregon could do “as well as California” with Chardonnay. In 1987, Robert Parker reported that Oregon would “catapult” onto the Chardonnay scene due to its similarity to Burgundy.
Is there truth to the “wrong clone” argument? Sure. There was a kernel of legitimacy that started the clone conversation, but somehow it has been the resounding soundbite that stayed with the rest of the world. Want to rebuff the “wrong clone” argument? Here’s one: The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Chardonnay Reserve (we tasted the 2012 vintage on Saturday) is sourced from the original vineyards plantings, and they’re currently at the ripe age of about 40 years (and own-rooted!). What clone was first planted by David Lett? The Draper selection, a member of the Wente “family”, from the Draper Ranch in St. Helena, CA. How d’ya like dem apples?
Which leads me to the soundbite that I feel most suits the 2015 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium: Its time to change the conversation.
Boom! Okay, let us pause for a moment to pay homage to Don Draper. Isn’t it serendipitous that I was just talking about the Draper clone?!
So I issue you this challenge, Oregon Chardonnay lovers: change the conversation. Its our job as Oregon wine drinkers and ambassadors for the region to shut down the “they planted the wrong clones” rhetoric. Take it in a different direction. Like the Willamette Valley being a natural home for a cool-climate varietal like Chardonnay. Like the bracing spine of acid that lies at the heart of a good Oregon Chard, stitching it together for decades of ageability. Like the fact that many Oregon Chardonnay vines are just *now* hitting their stride, age-wise, and we’ve only begun to see what these vines are capable of. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that at the core of Chardonnay from this region lies the most energetic, vibrant and haunting persona.
Before we move on to a few gratuitous Wine Porn pictures, a lovely quote from Mimi Casteel of Bethel Heights: “Chardonnay needs the restriction of site if it is to become a transparent ware of beauty.” Mimi spoke last, and maybe the room was just itching for a female voice, but her thoughts really seemed to lift the room. Very inspirational.
Want to be jealous? Here’s a lovely crop job of everything I tasted:
Alright alright. You want my top five? You can have ’em. In no particular order. These are just five that stayed with me, all things including price range considered:
1.) Walter Scott Chardonnay, 2013 Eola-Amity Hills, X-Novo Vineyard. 100 cases made, $45.
A real stunner; one of the more distinctly expressive wines of the day. Like that smokey, gunflinty edge? Cause I’m all about it. Polished, sleek, impossible to resist.
2.) Big Table Farm Chardonnay, 13 Willamette Valley. 476 cases made, $45.
I’ll admit it: I’m totally infatuated with these labels. Of course, the wine inside is killer too. Busty in all the right places, it packs clearly delineated spice, candied lemon, the silkiest of textures, and of course that vein of acid we all love.
3.) Belle Pente Chardonnay, 10 Willamette Valley, Belle Pente Vineyard. 330 cases made, $30.
Brian’s 2010 was in a wonderful place on Saturday. I think it actually had an advantage over some of the ’12s and ’13s being poured. An unfair advantage? Oh no. This is a current release. Brian also has his 2010 Riesling as a current release and lemmee tellya- that thing is no joke either. Patience is a virtue, folks. In any case, the cool 2010 vintage did wonders for whites. $30 is insane.
4.) Domaine Drouhin “Arthur” Chardonnay, 13 Dundee Hills. 3,075 cases made, $35.
By the way, its very difficult picking favorites here, in case you were wondering. This is a favorite because it always hits that vervy place that I love, always reminiscent of a Chablis. Go figure, since they’re DDO. Somewhat larger case production, but this is some good GD Chardonnay.
5.) Bergstrom “Sigrid” Chardonnay, 12/13 Willamette Valley. $85, ? cases made.
I mean, this is kind of a no-brainer. Sigrid is Queen. Sexy, sexy, sexy. Did I say sexy? They poured 2012 and 2013 on Saturday. Honestly, I can’t recall if I had a preference for one over the other. I had a 2010 vintage in January that knocked me on my ass. Bow down, bitches.
BONUS: DeLancellotti Chardonnay, 13 Willamette Valley. 50 cases made, $50.
Why is it a bonus? Well, because there’s a very good chance there’s none left and I don’t want to be a tease. I first had this wine back in November and was pleasantly reminded of how killer it is on Saturday. Nicely woven oak that isn’t overpowering, to my taste.
Okay, one more bonus: Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay, 05. WHUT. This is an extra bonus, because it was poured at the media dinner on Friday night, and my super-spoiled self got to attend. Its almost not fair to mention. This thing was freakin’ singin’, y’all.
Thats about all I have for you on this wrap up of the 2015 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium. It has sold out every year. You should go.
Oh, and here’s an adorable picture of the “B” table. I wear my bias on my sleeve.
Want to hear a few other awesome lady wine writer’s perspectives on The Chardonnay Symposium? Check out Jade Helm and Julie Arnan’s posts!