Chardonnays to Admire
100 years ago, Ernest Wente took cuttings from the south of France and planted them at Wente Vineyards in
Livermore, California. Today, over 80 percent of Chardonnay produced in California comes from some version
of the Wente clone.
Chris Thorpe who owns Adastra vineyard and Adastra Wines in Carneros, has a good summary on his website
(www.adastrawines.com) about the twisted history of Old Wente Chardonnay clone. Much of his information
came from the article written by Gerald Asher in Gourmet (May 1990), “Chardonnay: Buds, Twigs and Clones.”
In 1882, Charles Wetmore, the President of the California State Viticultural Commission and owner of Cresta
Blanca Winery brought back budwood cuttings from Meursault in Burgundy. The budwood was then
established in vineyards in the Livermore Valley of California. In 1912, a member of the Wente family
(reportedly Ernest) went to France and took cuttings from the University of Montpellier viticultural nursery.
These cuttings took a prominent place in the Wente vineyards in Livermore, along with cuttings taken from the
Gier Vineyard which had used some of Wetmore’s budwood. Budwood taken from Wente vineyards by other
winegrowers became known as “Wente.”
Karl, Ernest and Mr. & Mrs. Herman Wente
In 1948, Fred and Eleanor McCrea obtained budwood from Wente’s vineyard for planting at their Stony Hill
Vineyard in Napa. Louis Martini took budwood from Stony Hill and referred to it as “Wente.” Budwood from
some of Martini’s vines, as well as Wente plantings in Livermore and the nursery established in Arroyo Seco by
Karl Wente, were taken to the Foundation block at University of California at Davis by Howard Olmo beginning
in 1955. Olmo selected material that appeared to be disease free and had good yields. At the Foundation
block, the vines were grafted, tested and certified as Foundation Plant Materials Service (F.P.M.S.) clone 4.
This clone is referred to as the “Wente” or “heat treated Wente.” Non-certified budwood, like that taken by the
McCreas, is referred to as “Old Wente.”
The most common Chardonnay Dijon clones planted are 96 and 95, both traced to Meursault, France, and 76,
traced to the Saone et Loire region of France. Dijon clones of Chardonnay are particularly desirable in Oregon because they give better yields than the Wente clone, and they ripen earlier. Wente clone can make excellent Chardonnay in Oregon, but there are only about 10 acres of old Wente plantings remaining in the Northern Willamette Valley as most of the Wente plantings have been displaced by Dijon clones. Todd Hansen of Longplay in Oregon who sells some of his Wente selection to J. Christopher, told me the Rex Hill "old Vine" Chardonnay is a 30-year-old Wente selection, Crowley's Chardonnay is mostly Wente. Jay Christopher, Josh Bergstrom, and Nancy Ponzi all profess a love for Wente selection.
2011 Briceland Vineyards Humboldt County Chardonnay
Table wine, 135 cases, $21. Raised in stainless steel, no malolactic fermentation.
Light straw hue in
the glass. Faint aromas of butter, pink grapefruit, ocean air and yeast. Nutty and citrusy in a reserved
style with a smooth, easy drinking manner. Good.
2011 Briceland Vineyards Humboldt County Sauvignon Blanc
Table wine, 128 cases, $18.
color in the glass. Typical varietal aromas of grass, herbs and citrus. Crisp and refreshing with flavors of lime
zest, hay, grass, grapefruit with a mineral undertone. A grassy style with a pleasing mouthfeel and a dry finish.
2009 COBB Joy Road Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
13.6% alc., 95
cases, $80. Dijon clone.
Golden straw color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of
white peaches, honey, banana and pastry cream. Delicious flavors of baked
pear, toasted almonds, and lemon curd, finishing with noticeable length. Soft
and smooth with bright but well integrated acidity. A delight. Very good.
2011 Craggy Range Kidnapper’s Vineyard Hawkes Bay New Zealand Chardonnay
$19, screwcap. Imported by Kobrand Corp, NY, NY.
Very pale straw color in the glass. Fresh aromas
of green apples, lychee and marzipan. Crisp, juicy and slightly viscous on the palate with flavors of
citrus, baked pear, apple galette, and walnuts, finishing upbeat with a good cut of citrusy acid. Very
2009 Dehlinger Estate Bottled Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.9% alc., $37.
Golden straw color in
the glass. Primarily oak-driven aromas of toast, fresh brioche, and brown butter with a hint of yeastiness.
Richly flavored with a core of apple, baked pear, lemon, toffee, and roasted nuts. Relatively low in acid,
finishing dry with a bit of heat. Good.
2010 Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.2% alc., pH 3.48, TA 0.67, 3,018 cases, $27. Released
March 2012. From two blocks of 40+year-old Wente selections and two
blocks of Robert Young clone. Yields 2.8 tons per acre. Whole cluster
pressed, 80% barrel fermented and 20% stainless steel fermented,
indigenous and inoculated yeasts, weekly battonage, no malolactic
fermentation, aged 10 months in 20% new French oak barrels.
Light straw color
in the glass. Clean aromas of golden apple, lemon, yeast and nasturtium.
Polished and crisp, with flavors of apple, Asian pear, malted milk and toast, with
an appealing underpinning of minerality. Impeccable balance, on-point focus
and refreshing to drink. Very good.
2010 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.2% alc., $35. Sourced from Gap’s Crown, Durell,
Dutton Ranch, Sun Chase, and Parmalee Hill vineyards. Whole cluster pressed, indigenous yeast
fermentations, aged sur lie with weekly stirring, 100% malolactic fermentation in barrel, aged in 40%
new French oak barrels, and bottled without filtration.
Pale straw color in the glass. Pleasant perfume
of baked pear, honey and toast. Moderately rich with a comforting smoothness, featuring lemony, nutty,
toasty flavors with a hint of toffee, leaving some lemon-driven scent on the lively finish. Seamless and
thoroughly enjoyable. Very good.
2010 Patz & Hall Hudson Vineyard Napa Carneros Chardonnay
14.2% alc., 454 cases, $55. Hudson Vineyard was founded in the
1980s by Lee Hudson and is considered one of the grand cru sites in
Carneros. Sourced from a 4-acre block that is planted to the Hudson-
Wente selection. Whole cluster pressed, indigenous fermentations,
aged sur lie with weekly stirring, 100% malolactic fermentation in
barrel, aged in 60% new French oak barrels, and bottled without
Light straw color in the glass. The wine draws you in with appealing
aromas of honey, lemon curd, roasted almonds and toasty oak. Moderately rich
on the attack with luscious flavors of baked pear, lemon peel, and toffee,
finishing soft and comforting with a refreshing brightness due to harmonious citrus-driven acidity. Choose any
superlative you want. A masterpiece and one of the greatest California Chardonnays I have tasted this year.
2010 Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.2% alc., $42. A vineyard designate for Patz & Hall since
1998. A blend from seven blocks of Chardonnay farmed by the Dutton family, largely planted with California
heirloom selections (Robert Young, Rued, Hyde-Wente, and UCD clone 4). Whole cluster pressed, indigenous
yeast fermentations, aged sur lie with weekly stirring, 100% malolactic fermentation in barrel, aged in 45% new
French oak barrels.
Pale straw color in the glass. Aromas of peach, Asian pear, coconut and sawmill lead to
very tasty flavors of baked peach, pear, lemon curd, cocoa and toffee. Very smooth in the mouth with well
integrated supporting acidity, finishing bright and clean. Very well crafted and highly enjoyable, but not quite
the flavor impact of the Hudson Vineyard offering. Very good (+).
2010 Stoller Family Estate Reserve Dundee Hills Oregon Chardonnay
13.5% alc., pH 3.31, TA 0.73, 883 cases, $28. Composed
of high-density Dijon clone material (76, 95 and 96). Whole cluster
pressed, commercial and native yeast fermentations, aged sur lies for 10
months in 18% new, 9% second fill and 73% neutral French oak barrels
with battonage, cold stabilized and sterile filtered before bottling.
gold color in the glass. Very fresh perfume of pears, lemon peel, honey and
vanilla cream. Flavorful, with a core of green apple, pear, lemon and grapefruit
flavors with a slight flinty note, finishing dry and slightly tart. A high acid
rendition of Chardonnay that is primarily citrus driven. Very good.
2010 Varner Home Block Spring Ridge Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
13.4% alc., $37.
Golden straw color in the glass. Brisk aromas of lemon cream, apple and rocky shoreline. Flavors of green
apple and lemon predominate with a crisp lemon-lime fueled finish. Slightly nutty, with a peculiar celery stalk
note. Very smooth on the palate and easy to drink, but leans heavily on acidity. Good.