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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. · Pale straw 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. Good.

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

13.0% alc., $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 good.

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 filtration. · 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. · Pale 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.

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