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Drinking California Chardonnay History from Old Vine Vineyards

While sampling California old vine Pinot Noir wines for my bucket list, I came across a few notable Chardonnays produced from vines planted before 1980. Since Chardonnay is relatively resistant to viruses and has been planted widely (93,148 acres in 2018), there are a considerable number of old vine Chardonnay vineyards still in production.

Most Chardonnay vineyards were uprooted during Prohibition when growers replaced them with thick-skinned red varieties that could be shipped cross country. Small plantings of Wente Chardonnay survived Prohibition, and after Prohibition, Ernest and Herman Wente took over the family business and developed the Wente Chardonnay clones that completely transformed California’s Chardonnay future. Today, over 80 percent of Chardonnay produced in California comes from some version of the Wente clone.

Here are just a few of the exceptional California Chardonnays I have discovered recently that were produced from vineyards planted prior to 1980.

2017 Brosseau Old Vines Brosseau Vineyard Chalone Chardonnay

13.9% alc., $46. · Light golden yellow in the glass. Inviting aromas of grilled lemon, brioche and flint. Discreetly concentrated flavors of lemon, white stone fruits, warm brioche and smoky flint. Beautifully composed, with the slightest viscosity and bright acidity that keeps the fruit in balance. Very reserved oak treatment. Score: 93

2017 DuMOL Chloe Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.3% alc., 724 cases, $65. Winemaker Andy Smith has been crafting Old Wente Chardonnay from this vineyard for 17 years. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 33% new followed by 6 months of settling in tank. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. An opulent wine offering waves of succulent stone fruits and citrus leading to an unctuous drinking experience. That said, the wine is not overblown and has good focus and finishing citric drive. I have enjoyed many bottles of this wine over the years. Score: 95

2017 Dutton-Goldfield Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Marin County Chardonnay

13.5% alc., $130 (1.5L). Sourced from a small block of Chardonnay vines planted in 1980 by winegrower Mark Pasternak. Fermented and aged on the lees in stainless steel barrels. · Pale golden yellow color in the glass. The nose will wow you with soaring aromas of golden apple, poached pear and lemon pith. Ridiculous fruit purity and energy, featuring citrus, apple and pear flavors unadorned with oak. The purest expression of Chardonnay in a very clean and crisp style with a slightly creamy mouthfeel induced by lees. A very special wine of uncommon breeding that will stun Grand Cru Burgundy (Chablis) geeks. Still wonderful when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Merci! Score: 98

2018 Kutch Trout Gulch Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

13.4% alc., 425 cases, $49. Old Wente clone planted in 1977 in sandy loam soils at 600 feet elevation 3.5 miles inland. Whole cluster pressed, indigenous yeast fermentation, natural malolactic fermentation, minimally effective S02, and aged in French oak barrels, 20% new. · Light golden color in the glass. Seductive aromas of preserved lemon, white peach and slate. Flavors of lemon and pineapple with a hint of salinity that fan out on the palate and exit with some length. Shot through with electric acidity creating a crisp, dry and refreshing drinking experience. Still wondrous when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle. Terrific!! Score: 96

2018 Kutch Bohan Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.4% alc., 350 cases, $49. Own rooted vines planted in 1972. Whole cluster pressed, indigenous primary fermentation, natural malolactic fermentation, minimally effective S02, and aged in French oak barrels, 20% new. · Light golden yellow in the glass. Reserved, but pleasing aromas of citrus, peach pit, wildflower honey and wet stone. Noticeable boldness yet discrete, with flavors of white nectarine and lemon meringue. A little more viscosity and finishing length than the Trout Gulch bottling with enough energizing acidity to satisfy. Highly enjoyable. Score: 94

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