Download &
print (pdf)

2013 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay: Part of the New Wave in Oregon

Over the last 50 years of Oregon’s modern winegrowing history, Chardonnay has languished behind Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, Oregon’s two signature varietals. Pinot Gris had not found notoriety in wine regions other than Alsace, France, seemed perfectly suitable to Oregon’s climate, and was a heritage grape, having been brought to the Willamette Valley by David Lett and established in the Dundee Hills in 1966.

The early 1970s plantings of Chardonnay in California were primarily Wente clone (FPS 04 and FPS 05, also known as clone 108) and this became the most widely planted Chardonnay clone. Oregon’s earliest Chardonnay plantings were established by David Lett using cuttings from the Napa Valley that had been planted by Jerry Draper at Draper Ranch. These plantings date to 1943 and were originally sourced from Louis Martini’s Stanley Ranch in Carneros, planted with a diversity of European vines in the mid-1930s. Many of the other early Oregon winegrowing pioneers who came from California also established heritage clones of Chardonnay in early Oregon plantings.

The Dijon clones of Chardonnay were brought to North America by the Oregonians who had found that California’s heritage clones, in particular the Wente clone, performed poorly in Oregon, often proving to be an unacceptable match to Oregon’s climate. Although the heritage Chardonnay clones frequently failed to ripen and produced wines that were thin, acidic, and lacking in character, this wasn’t universally true, as Wente clone Chardonnay performed well for example at Bethel Heights in the Eola-Amity Hills.

It wasn’t just the clones that were at fault. The early Oregon vintners were inexperienced with the variety and many wines showed too much of the winemaker’s imprint and far too much oak overlay. In addition, the Chardonnay vines were often planted in the wrong sites and the search for proper terroir for Chardonnay continues in Oregon to this day. Chardonnay should be successful in Oregon as the Willamette Valley has a similar climate to that of Burgundy.

In the mid-1980s, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard and Ron Cameron at Oregon State University worked together to establish relations with Professor Raymond Bernard of ONIVINS in Dijon, France, and Alex Schaeffer of INRA in Colmar, France. On a prior visit to Burgundy, Adelsheim realized that the Chardonnay grapes there were harvested at the same time as the Pinot Noir, or even earlier, while Oregon’s Chardonnay grapes were being harvested later than Pinot Noir. This was the impetus for Adelsheim to coax Bernard into sending Oregon some of the Burgundians’ best Chardonnay clones.

The Oregon State University program imported eight French Chardonnay clones selected by Bernard from Burgundian vineyards. By 1987, some of the French Chardonnay clones (now known as Dijon clones because of the return address on the shipping package) were made available for the public collection at FPS and included (French clone numbers) 76, 77, 78, 96, 352, and 277 (352 was from l’Espiguette and others were from Dijon). The complicated history of Chardonnay and the selections at FPS is told in the FPS Grape Program Newsletter from 2007: www.iv.ucdavis/files/24489.pdf.

The French Dijon clones were widely introduced into Oregon in the early 1990s. The planting of Dijon clones 76 and 96 in Block 8-1990 at Knudsen Vineyards is the oldest planting of these clones in Oregon and probably the oldest planting of these clones in the US. The Dijon clones performed well, maturing before the bad weather set in at the end of Oregon’s harvest, and producing Chardonnays with excellent structure and balanced acidity. Clone 96 became the most frequently propagated and clone 77 a popular clone of the musqué type.

According to statistics compiled by the Department of Agriculture & Research Economics, Oregon State University and the National Agriculture Statistics Service, Oregon had 272 acres of Chardonnay planted in 1981. By 1987, acreage had more than tripled (1,006 acres), but by 2005 the acreage had fallen to 842, the fewest since the 1986 level of 873 acres, due in part to the popularity of Pinot Gris. In 2012, the total had increased to 1,160 acres, about the same as 1989, but Pinot Gris plantings were still triple that of Chardonnay in 2012.

In the last 8 years, Oregon has experienced a dramatic shift in quality of Chardonnay. Blessed with vibrant natural acidity and fruit flavors of citrus, white stone fruits and apple with less of the tropical fruit flavors found in many California Chardonnays, Oregon Chardonnay is finding its niche. The popularity among vintners was reflected recently in the attendance at the 2015 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium which attracted over 275 people to the technical session and discussion

Knudsen Vineyards was established in 1971 and is one of the oldest vineyards in the Dundee Hills, and for many years was the largest. 130 acres are planted to Pinot Noir (73%), Chardonnay (24%) and Pinot Meunier (3%). Knudsen Vineyards is releasing a 2013 Chardonnay, the first from Knudsen Vineyards in over 40 years and representative of the new wave of Oregon Chardonnay. Currently available only to mailing list members, the Chardonnay is produced from vines planted in 1993 to Dijon clone 76. The family is releasing this wine to honor Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen, the founders of Knudsen Vineyards. Knudsen Vineyards released its inaugural Pinot Noir last year and the 100 cases sold out in six weeks.

The 2013 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay was released March 18. Visit to acquire this or future releases. The exclusive mailing list member offering is closed, but wine will be available for purchase on the website starting Monday, April 20. The 2014 vintage will offer considerably more production with 750 cases of Pinot Noir and 400 cases of Chardonnay.

2013 Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Chardonnay

13.5% alc., pH 3.39, TA 0.60, 125 cases, $45. Dijon 76 and 96 clones. 100% malolactic fermentation. Barrel fermented 6 months in primarily older French oak barrels with 35% new and 6 months in bottle. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Elevating aromas of fresh citrus and apple tart. Delicious array of layered flavors, including lemon, pear, apple, baking spice, honey and caramel. Impressive depth of flavor in a clean and invigorating style, offering a lemon-drop-fueled finish alive with flinty acidity. An exceptional wine that will impress even diehard white Burgundy devotees. Score: 94

Print entire newsletter

Wineries in this Article