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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Last Week's Reviews
Published April 3, 2015

Fifty Shades of Chardonnay, Part Three
– Chardonnay Clones

Part Three of a 4-Part Series  (See Part 1)  (See Part 2)  (See Part 4)
By Chuck Hill
 

Montrachet white Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune is acknowledged by almost everyone as the greatest Chardonnay in the world.  The soil, climate and vintage determine, to a partial extent, the quality of the wine, but the genetic selection of the vine is most important.  The virtues of selected vines have been sought for centuries, but it was not until the 20th century that modern science was able to define and track each genetically unique variation, or clone. 

The pursuit of complex, enjoyable Chardonnay at an affordable price has been a major enterprise of the American wine industry for at least six decades.  UC Davis originally classified and propagated Chardonnay clones suited for the warm California growing season, recommending the Wente Clone (2A), Clone 4 (Martini clone), Davis (UCD) 108 and others.  These clones are mid to late-ripening and are not especially suited to cool climates like Oregon or the coastal valleys of California. 

In 1974, David Adelsheim went to Burgundy to discover the secrets of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production there and came away realizing that Oregon needed new Chardonnay clones more suited to the cool, western Oregon growing season.  In 1977, clones selected by Raymond Bernard of the Dijon office of the French Ministry of Agriculture were imported to Oregon for evaluation under quarantine.  It would not be until the early 1990s that these “Dijon” clones were accepted as a distinct improvement, and widespread planting begun. 

Today, a high percentage of Chardonnay plantings in the Northwest and coastal California are to Dijon clone vines.  Wines have improved dramatically, offering greater complexity and structure with each vintage.  Today I include clonal information where available. 

Adelsheim Vineyard
2013 Chardonnay, Caitlin’s Reserve
Willamette Valley AVA
$45.00

So this is the guy (David Adelsheim) that worked the harvest in Burgundy in the 1970s and wondered why the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes there ripened at the same time, when in Oregon the Chardonnay ripened two to three weeks later.  Clones.  His efforts began the importation and acceptance of French Dijono clones of Chardonnay in the New World.  Adelsheim reserve Chardonnay is 100% Dijon clone 76 and shows the terrific balance and structure we all seek.  Look for apple, pear, lemon, mineral, apricot…all in good proportion and waiting for a tasty meal. 

Reininger Winery
2012 Chardonnay, Birch Creek Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley  AVA
48.00

Winemaker Chuck Reininger reported to me on the Dijon clone 95 that is grown at Birch Creek Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley.  “Known for more concentrated flavors and richness along with its mineral character.  Depending on the site, it can have moderate to fairly high yields and a lower Total Acidity.”  My tasters really enjoyed the wine for its ripe pear and tropical character with flinty mineral and good acidity caressed by just a hint of oak. 

Carabella Vineyard
2012 Chardonnay, Dijon Clone 76
Chehalem Mtns.  AVA
$30.00

This Dijon 76 Chardonnay is from a different vintage than the Adelsheim wine above, but was equally well liked.  The wine shows a different style with more forward oak character but is well balanced to sip or serve with food.  Aromas of pineapple, pear and vanilla lead to a complex palate of green apple, melon and buttery caramel on the finish. 

 

Dusted Valley Vintners
2013 Chardonnay
Yakima Valley AVA
$29.00

One of Washington’s oldest Chardonnay plantings is the French Creek Vineyard at the east end of the Yakima Valley.  It is planted to the Wente clone which Ernest Wente brought to California from the University of Montpellier in France in 1912.

Dusted Valley winemakers Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson embraced the vintage and whole-cluster pressed the fruit for barrel fermentation.  Look for a food-friendly wine showing earthy peach, mineral and citrus with notes of vanilla and oak spice. 


 

Woodward Canyon
2013 Chardonnay
Washington
$44.00

Winemaker Rick Small has a long relationship with Celilo Vineyard on Underwood Mountain in the Columbia Gorge where he gets Wente clone Chardonnay each year to blend with his estate Walla Walla fruit, which is UC Davis clone 108.  Experience makes the difference in crafting this tempting wine showing peach, pear and apple mingling with spicy oak, mineral and vanilla. 

Charles Smith Wines
2013 Eve Chardonnay
Washington
$12.00

Like the forbidden fruit on the label, winemaker/owner Charles Smith invites you to take a bite out of his apple- and pear-dominant Chardonnay and marvel at the balance and affinity for your favorite lighter meals.  You’ll find complex notes of dusty mineral, citrus and tropical fruits on the palate.  Good value. 

Sinclair Estate
2013 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley AVA
$28.00

Winemaker Amy Wampfler does a superb job crafting each vintage of Sinclair Estate Chardonnay from grapes grown in five different vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley.  Her bold style creates a wine with rich tropical fruit, dusty mineral, caramel, vanilla and crisp citrus.  One of the vineyards in this blend is French Creek, see above

Coeur d’Alene Cellars
2013 Chardonnay, Reflection
Washington
$32.00

This Washington Chardonnay is a blend of grapes grown at Stillwater Creek Vineyard on the Royal Slope of the Frenchman Hills and grapes grown at Olsen Vineyard near Prosser.  Stillwater Creek has three Dijon clones of Chardonnay and also the clone discovered by Walter Clore, known in California as FPS 15 (known in Washington as the Prosser clone).  The wine is bright with aromas of pear, vanilla and floral perfume, leading to rich flavors of creamy lemon, earthy vanilla and notes of complex sur lie character from barrel aging. 

Mercer Canyons
2013 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley AVA
$13.00

Mercer Canyons is the value label for Mercer Estates and honors the pioneering history of the Mercer family who settled in the Columbia Valley’s Horse Heaven Hills as early as 1886.  “Respect the land” is the family’s creed, and the land has sustained them for five generations.  The fresh and friendly 2013 Chardonnay offers aromas and flavors of spicy pear, apricot, vanilla and lemon, finishing with crisp acidity. 

NXNW
2013 Chardonnay, The Benches
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$15.00

The Benches vineyard stands above the Columbia River after it makes the turn through the Wallula Gap to head west to the Pacific Ocean.  The site is comprised of 27 benches of land from the river to the top vineyard at 1,450 feet elevation.  NXNW Chardonnay (Prosser clone) is crafted from grapes grown in the higher, cooler vineyard blocks.  Look for aromas of Meyer lemon, spicy sweet herbs and toasty cedar with following flavors of grapefruit, mineral and vanilla. 

Chateau Ste. Michelle
2013 Chardonnay, Mimi
Horse Heaven HillsThe Benches
$20.00

Just to show how important vineyards and grapes are to winemakers, this wine is named in honor of Mimi Nye, the longtime vineyard manager for Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate.  Clones of Chardonnay planted at Canoe Ridge Estate include: 6 – Martini, 15 – Prosser Clone and 38 – a French clone reported to be the same as Dijon 95.  Mimi’s namesake wine is lightly oaked and elegant, offering aromas and flavors of apple, pear and melon with food-friendly acidity on the finish. 

Rolling Bay
2013 Chardonnay, Reserve
Snipes Mountain AVA
$27.00

Grapes for Rolling Bay Chardonnay came from Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain in the central Yakima Valley.  Grapes were first planted here in 1917 and are the oldest wine grape vines in Washington State.  I don’t know what Chardonnay clone is planted here, but winemaker Alphonse deKlerk uses the grapes to make a fine Chardonnay featuring lemon and ginger aromas leading to an inviting palate of pear, melon and mineral. 

Tamarack Cellars
2013 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley
$15.00

I’m not sure if poly-clonal is an accepted wine term, but I’ll use it to describe Ron Coleman’s Chardonnay from Tamarack Cellars in Walla Walla.  Sourcing fruit from six different Columbia Valley vineyards, a diversity of clones adds complexity and style to this wine.  Aromas of creamy lemon, grapefruit zest and earthy mineral invite a sip, revealing flavors of vanilla, lemon and toasty oak – nicely balanced with acidity to accompany fish or fowl. 

Erath Winery
2013 Chardonnay, Dijon Clone 76
Willakia Vineyard
$34.00

As one of the pioneering vintners of the northern Willamette Valley, Erath Winery has had a close connection with growers throughout the area for almost 40 years.  This wine hails from Block 18 of the Willakia Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. Somewhat controversial with my tasters, the wine offers complex-though-unusual aromas ranging from baked spicy apple to orchard blossom to rising bread dough.  The palate of tropical fruits, pear and citrus is well balanced and food-friendly. 

Buty Winery
2013 Chardonnay, Conner Lee Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA
$40.00

The two blocks at Conner Lee Vineyard, where the fruit for this wine was harvested, are planted to Dijon clone 95, planted own-root in sandy-silt soils.  Because the phylloxera root louse doesn’t survive in such soils, ungrafted vines are fairly common in many Washington vineyards.  Buty Chardonnay offers distinctive floral aromas of honeysuckle and hibiscus, with notes of spicy citrus and tropical fruits.  The palate echoes the nose with rich fruit flavors melding with flinty mineral and earthy spice. 

Wines from other areas:

Ad Lib
2012 Hen & Chicken Chardonnay
Great Southern, Western Australia
$20.00

Larry Cherubino crafts wines for his Ad Lib and other brands in Western Australia.  The name of his Hen & Chicken Chardonnay comes from a description of a clone that is susceptible to millerandage – having small berries intermingled with normal berries in the same cluster (hen and chicken).  This particular clone is alternately referred to as Gin Gin and Mendoza clone.  Look for lemon and grapefruit aromas with an equally citrusy palate caressed by vanilla for a creamy finish. 

Natura
2013 Chardonnay
Casablanca Valley. Chile
$12.00

This wine from Banfi uses hand-picked, organically-grown grapes from Chile’s famed Casablanca Valley winegrowing region.  It is made in a lighter style with only stainless steel fermentation.  Two percent each of Viognier and Marsanne were added for complexity.  Look for aromas of grapefruit, lime and pineapple with corresponding citrus flavors and notes of tropical fruits on the palate. 
 

Black Stallion Estate Winery
2012 Chardonnay
Napa Valley AVA
$22.00

Black Stallion Winery is located in the Oak Knoll District on the east side of the Napa Valley on the Silverado Trail.  It was once home to the Silverado Horseman’s Center.  Black Stallion Napa Chardonnay offers aromas of tropical fruit, buttery brioche and flinty mineral, leading to flavors of creamy lemon, vanilla and sur lie character from 10 months of barrel aging in French oak. 

Ghost Pines
2013 Chardonnay, Winemakers Blend
Sonoma-Napa-Monterey
$20.00

Ghost Pines wines are blended from different growing areas in California.  The winery feels that this selection process creates unique and complex wines from the best fruit of each region.  This wine contains approximately equal parts from Sonoma, Napa and Monterey Counties.  Aromas and flavors of baked apple and floral perfume mingle with distinct notes of honey, vanilla and toasty oak – nicely balanced.

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To download a pdf file from Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis on Chardonnay clones and their evolution in the United States, go the following link: iv.ucdavis.edu/files/24489.pdf  


 

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©  April, 2015  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 04/11/2015