Brittan left his job as winemaker at Stags' Leap Winery after 16 years to move to Oregon to make cool-climate wine. "One of the reasons I moved from Napa was to make Chardonnay," Brittan says. "But I wasn't going to make it under my own label until I had planted my own grapes and harvested them."
Brittan says, "I feel very strongly that the best New World Chardonnays are going to come out of Oregon in the next 10 years. It's because of the way the fruit evolves up here. It's not so abrupt as in Napa. When I made Far Niente Chardonnay back in 1981, I think they got too rich. Here, I've found that structure and richness that I wanted."
But in 2009, his Chardonnay vineyards weren't producing yet, and he needed some wine.
"My daughter wanted to get married in California at a winery," Brittan says. "They wanted me to buy Chardonnay for the wedding. There's no way in hell I'm going to drink somebody else's white wine. So I decided to make two barrels of Chardonnay."
Brittan bought the fruit from Willamette Valley growers and made the wine, but not without difficulty.
"It got stuck in fermentation and I got tired of waiting for it," he says. "I figured it was a wedding wine so I bottled it anyway, a little sweet."
"Well, she kicked the guy to the curb," Brittan says. "And I had two barrels of Chardonnay. But that's OK, I never liked that guy." Appropriate, as he didn't like the slightly sweet Chardonnay either.
"My wife was out trying to sell 45 cases of it and people were throwing dollar bills at her, trying to buy the sample (bottles)," he says. "If you want to sell Chardonnay, it's a good thing to make Rombauer Chardonnay."
Brittan has decided Chardonnay from purchased fruit is in the product mix. He makes a fabulous one, a blend from two vineyards that's 100% barrel-fermented ("I'm a huge believer in forest of origin. This is Allier," Brittan says.)
Brittan Vineyards Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2010 ($40) was one of the best Chards I had last week in Oregon: intense with plenty of citrus fruit initially, it gets broader on the finish. Richness at the bottom, freshness on top, 13.5% alcohol: I hope I get to try this again in 5 years, but I rate it 93 points now. He only made 200 cases and once again there's a daughter-related reason I got to try it.
So how's your daughter doing, Robert?
"She's doing OK. She's got a new boyfriend. I don't like him, but I didn't like the first one either. But my second daughter, she's a viticulturist. She got married to a great guy, but he's not a wine drinker. He and his friends are all beer drinkers. We took 20 cases of wine to the wedding and brought 19 back."
If Brittan's daughters ARE reading this, sorry for the embarrassing anecdotes -- but thanks for the Chardonnay.