February’s 29 days of Chardonnay
a collaborative project
When Jill and I planted our first “trial” block at Belle Pente in 1994, we included a few rows of Chardonnay, for reasons that I can’t clearly remember. Over the years there had been a noticeable dearth of Chard bottles in our re-cycling bin, and although I had made Chardonnay in my pre-commercial days in the mid-80s, it was hardly our “go to” white wine. We had a brief encounter with whites from the hill of Corton during a visit to Burgundy in 1990, but we had as yet not enjoyed the pleasures of the great Chards of the world.
But our little trial block (planted to the “new” Dijon clones) thrived, and we decided to commit a steep southwest slope to 2 acres of Chardonnay during our 1999 planting. We then spent the next 5 years second-guessing our decision. As our re-cycling bin routinely overflows with tall skinny bottles of the German and Alsatian persuasions, I often wondered why we hadn’t planted Riesling or Gewurtztraminer on that slope. Grafting over was contemplated on more than one occasion.
That idle speculation stopped abruptly with the 2004 vintage. From the moment we tasted the Chard juice out of the tank, I knew that there was something special going on. On the day of the wine’s release, I proudly took it into Portland’s premier wine shop. By chance, there were a half dozen bottles of good village Mersault sitting on the tasting table, abandoned by some slacker wine sales rep. I inserted our 2004 Belle Pente Vineyard Chardonnay into the middle of the flight, and tasted through with the staff. Our wine more than held it’s own with bottles at twice the price!
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to taste many Oregon Chardonnays along side the best from California and Burgundy. The Oregon wines never fail to impress. The style is a theoretical hybrid of the best qualities of the other regions: the freshness, focus, and mineral undertones of Burgundy, with the riper fruit of the New World. It is Oregon’s best kept secret, and a great story waiting to be told!