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Chardonnays of Interest

I came across an interesting article in Science (Vol 285, September 3, 1999) titled, “Historical Genetics: The Parentage of Chardonnay, Gamay and Other Wine Grapes of Northeastern France,” written by John Bowers, Jean-Michel Boursiquot, Patrice This, Kieu Chu, Henrik Johansson, and Carole Meredith (several authors were from University of California Davis). 322 cultivars of Vitis vinifera taken from the vineyards at University of California Davis and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique at Domaine de Vassal, near Montpellier, France were analyzed.

16 cultivars, including Chardonnay, had genotypes consistent with their being the progeny of a single pair of parents: ‘Pinot’ and ‘Gouais blanc.’ This study was important because it had been speculated that Chardonnay might have been of foreign rather than French origin, possibly coming from the Middle East.

The determination that 16 varieties are the progeny of ‘Pinot’ is not surprising since the grape has been in Burgundy for a very long time. The authors point to references to a variety that was probably ‘Pinot’ that go back as far as the Roman agricultural writer Columella in the first century A.D. They speculate ‘Pinot’ may have been in the Burgundy region at the time of the Roman conquest. What was surprising, however, is that the other parent was ‘Gouais blanc,’ a mediocre variety with yellow-gold berries that is no longer planted in France. The authors point out ‘Gouais blanc’ was at one time planted throughout northeastern France, but in less desirable sites, with the best sites reserved for ‘Pinot.’ It is likely ‘Gouais blanc’ was introduced to France from an eastern European origin, possibly by the third century Roman emperor Probus.

Because ‘Pinot’ and ‘Gouais blanc’ were planted throughout northeastern France in proximity, it is probable that the crosses occurred here, although other crosses may have occurred in disparate regions of Europe as well.

The parent of the dark-berried cultivars, including ‘Gamay noir,’ was probably ‘Pinot Noir.’ Some of the light colored progeny may have had ‘Pinot gris’ or ‘Pinot blanc’ as a parent.

The following Chardonnays were tasted recently. None are “naked” (produced without oak or MLF).

Bjørnstad Cellars

Greg Bjornstad (“Byurn-sted” is Norwegian for “bear place”) has an impressive resume as an accomplished viticulturist, including international vineyard consulting. His well-known clients have included duMOL, Hirsch, Kistler, Kosta Browne, Paul Hobbs, Pisoni and Scott Paul. In 2005 he founded his eponymous label concentrating on vineyard-designated Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from vineyards that he has personally worked with for many years. Winemaking is non-interventional in its purist form. The Chardonnay pressing regime is dictated by the vintage and condition of the fruit as to choice of whole cluster or de-stemmed. Native yeast fermentation is employed with most clones. Aging is carried out on the lees in barrel with about 50% new French oak. 100% MLF, unfined and unfiltered. Chardonnay sources include Ritchie Vineyard (Russian River Valley), Barbed Oak Vineyard (Bennett Valley), and Keefer Ranch (Green Valley) which makes up most of the Sonoma County bottling. Total average production is 800 cases. I was very impressed with the 2007 vintage Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and can recommend Greg’s wines without reservation. The 2008 Chardonnays reviewed here are all beautifully crafted with charming restraint impeccable balance and extremely well integrated oak. The wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and online (

2008 Bjørnstad Cellars Sonoma County Chardonnay

14.2% alc., 221 cases, $25. Released 7/10. · Straw color with slight haze (unfiltered) in the glass. Shy aromas of citrus peel, brioche, brown butter and stainless. Demurely flavored with notes of lemons, white peaches and buttered brioche. Slightly creamy in texture. A solid offering. Good.

2008 Bjørnstad Cellars Barbed Oak Vineyard Bennett Valley Chardonnay

14.2% alc., 115 cases, $30. Release 12/11. Golden straw color with slight haze (unfiltered) in the glass. · Terrific nose offering scents of petrichor, crabapple and poached apple. Varied flavors including peaches, bananas foster, brown butter, roasted nuts and a hint of citrus. A uniquely flavored wine with a slightly creamy texture, finishing with a bright lift of acidity and impressive persistence of fruit.

2008 Bjørnstad Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.4% alc., 129 cases, $40. Release 12/11. · Yellow-straw color with slight haze (unfiltered) in the glass. Appealing aromas of apples, roasted almonds, and subtle butter accent. Delicious core of crisp green apples, marzipan and spice. Discreet but flavorful with bright acidity that drives one to take another sip. A superb rendition from this iconic Russian River Valley Chardonnay vineyard.

Patz & Hall

Patz & Hall have been producing premium Chardonnay since 1988 and Pinot Noir since 1995. The winery is a joint effort between winemakers James Hall and Anne Moses and the sales and marketing team of Donald and Heather Patz. The portfolio includes two Sonoma Coast cuvées (a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir) and a selection of vineyard-designate bottlings from several winegrowing regions. The grapes for each program are treated exactly the same in the vineyard and in the winery; the difference is the way they imagine the wines. The Sonoma Coast Chardonnay has a significant amount of fruit from Gap’s Crown Vineyard as well as other growers such as the Martinelli family, Charlie Chenoweth and Steve Hill. The Dutton Ranch Chardonnay has been a vineyard-designate since 1998. This wine incorporates the oldest vines farmed by the Duttons, dating to 1969 and the average vine age for this blend is about 20 years. The Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay is in its fifth vintage. Farmer Lee Hudson shares a special block of Hudson Vineyard planted to Hudson-Wente and Dijon 95 clones. The Chardonnays are characterized by well-mannered primary oak and toast related aromas and flavors. The wines are sold through the website with the Sonoma Coast wines entering the retail and restaurant marketplace. The winery has a tasting salon in Napa (visit

2009 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.2% alc., $35. Released March 2011. A blend of fruit from Gap’s Crown Vineyard, Durell Vineyard, Dutton Ranch and Zio Tony Ranch. Whole cluster pressed, wild and cultured yeast fermentations, aged sur lie with weekly stirring, 100% MLF, aged in 40% new Burgundian French oak barrels. · Light straw color in the glass. Faint scent of citrus fruits and pear with a noticeable oak presence. Tasty core of lightly fruited flavors of baked pear, lemon, green apple and brioche, finishing with high-strung acidity, austere fruit and generous toasted oak. Decent.

2009 Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.2% alc., $39. Released November 2010. A blend of California heritage clones and selections including Robert Young, Rued, Hyde-Wente, UC Davis clone 4 and Spring Mountain. Whole cluster pressed, wild and cultured fermentations, aged sur lie with weekly stirring, 100% MLF, aged in 40% new Burgundian oak barrels. · Light straw color in the glass. Scent of lemon curd, banana, roasted nuts and wet grass. Moderately rich core of white peach, pear, green apple and oak flavors, sprightly on the palate with a bright and refreshing finish marked by toasted oak. Good.

2009 Patz & Hall Hudson Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

14.2% alc., $55. Released March 2011. From a unique block in the Hudson Vineyard that allows longer hangtime. The Hudson Vineyard was founded in the 1980s by Lee Hudson and is considered one the most prized sources of Chardonnay in Carneros. Whole cluster pressed, 100% indigenous yeast fermentations, aged sur lie with weekly stirring, 100% MLF, aged in 40% new Burgundian French oak barrels. Unfiltered. · Light straw color in the glass. Shy aromas of pear, brioche and petrichor. Delicious essence of baked apples with accents of pear jam, baking spice and toasty oak. Juicy and mouth filling, bright and clean, with a refreshing grip of acidity on the long finish. A wine of high pedigree that has the balance to last many years in the cellar. Very good.


2009 Gracianna Suzanne’s Blend Russian River Valley Chardonnay

13.8% alc., 148 cases, $34. Released May 2011. The Amador Family of Sonoma County named their brand after their French Basque great-great grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. This wine was made from fruit by a well-known Russian River grower. Unfined and unfiltered. · Straw color and clear in the glass. Shy but pleasing aromas of lemon zest, pear, white peach and hay. Modestly crisp and slightly creamy with flavors of baked pear, toasted bread and fresh herbs, finishing with a good acid snap. Good.

2009 Knez Winery Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay

14.0% alc., $30. A new producer who now owns Demuth and Cerise vineyards in the Anderson Valley. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Aromas of stewed apple. Flavor of apple with a slight medicinal note. Lacks flavor intensity, brightness and interest. I have had incredible Chardonnays from this vineyard but this wine falls short. Decent at best.

2008 Lynmar Estate Quail Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.3% alc., pH 3.38, TA 0.59, 694 cases, $40. 100% estate grown and bottled from the 42-acre Quail Hill Vineyard. Whole cluster pressed, 45% new French oak barrels, mostly native yeast fermentations, aged on the lees with weekly stirring, 100% MLF, aged 15 months. Winemaker Hugh Chapelle. · Light straw color in the glass. Aromas of lemon curd, vanilla custard, seasoned oak, buttered toast and Cracker Jack. Very tasty fruit core featuring prominent pear flavor with notes of white peach, creme brulee and tasty oak, finishing dry with a hint of caramel. Soft in the mouth, even slightly creamy. A thoroughly enjoyable wine that improves in the glass over time.

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