|Check out that alcohol percentage|
I'll be honest: I couldn't resist the opportunity to present Heimoff's seminar nearly two months before he does.
So here's a round table discussion about Chardonnay from some of the leading producers in Santa Barbara County. We tasted a lot of their wines while talking, and I'll have a surprisingly strong statement on that next week, but not today.
Laura Booras-Mosheni, Riverbench: I think Chardonnay got a bad rap. People were used to that oaky, buttery Chardonnay. But when you hit that balance perfectly, it's such a good wine.
Dieter Cronje, Presqui'le: Left alone, Chardonnay's a really good indicator of terroir.
Matt Murphy, Presqui'le: If you pick at the right time from vineyards that have been farmed right.
Me: What do you think of natural wines?
Chanin: I try to portray myself as vineyard-driven rather than natural wine. There's so many natural wines I can't drink. I think I'm a very natural winemaker. But I do it to make better wine. I don't do it to make natural wine.
Me: How important is the influence of critics' scores for Chardonnay?
Chanin: Jim Clendenen made the first vintage of Au Bon Climat "Nuits Blances au Bouge" because he was upset at big Chards getting high ratings. He was making high-acid wines and he put on the label that this wine was for high scores. Sure enough, it got the highest scores. He discontinued it in '05 but brought it back by popular demand in '08.
Me: How is the unoaked Chardonnay trend going for you?
Dick Dore, Foxen: We make an unoaked Chardonnay for our tasting room and it sells out.
Mike Brughelli, Kenneth Volk Vineyards: We make 2000 cases of unoaked Chardonnay. We started with 300 cases. Meeting the demand is difficult.
Booras-Mosheni: It depends on the state. Missouri is one of our best states for unoaked.
Chanin: We go to extremes in this country, and this is another one. Unoaked Chardonnay is another extreme.
Me: How do you feel about malo? Personally I like Chardonnay with a touch of French oak, but I'm not a fan of the buttery taste of malo.
Jenny Dore, Foxen: We're all doing less. There's a swing from the '90s when everything was leesy and there was not enough acidity.
Booras-Mosheni: It can be deceiving. Everybody thinks malo can be too rich. I think the big enemy was overoaking. If used correctly, malo can be a great enhancer of Chardonnay. I think oak can be the enemy of Chardonnay.
Dick Dore: When I go out into the market, I go into a retail store and before I leave there's three old ladies who want to buy Rombauer Chardonnay.
Jenny Dore: In this county you have to talk about balance. We have very high acid so you have to get the fruit a little riper to get balance. Our Sea Smoke vineyard is the only one that we don't have control of. It's our highest alcohol wine. It's our most expensive and it gets our highest rating.
Jenny Dore: It's hypocritical. Buyers say they want lower alcohols but they really want our Sea Smoke Vineyard (wine).
Chanin: Once a wine passes a certain percentage of alcohol you lose the expression of the vineyard.
Me: Does the market for the wine affect the style you make?
Brughelli: I think you have to have your house style.
Miller: I think you just made the case for why we should have the Chardonnay symposium. Somebody out there is paying top dollar for Kistler. The face of what we see of the Chardonnay crowd is the Rombauer crowd. There has never existed a community to take Chardonnay seriously.
Jenny Dore: Chardonnay got a bad reputation and deserved it, by and large. A lot of East Coast buyers will say, I'm so tired of California Chardonnay. Rather than with restaurant buyers, I see it more with retail types. These are the people I love pouring for.
Cronje: Chardonnay might be the most brand-loyal variety out there.
Booras-Mosheni: I think millenials are a little turned off because their parents drink it. But I think it'll come back.
Tell Steve you heard it all before; you just came for the wines.