Chardonnay—Classic white French wine grape grown in Burgundy where it is the principle grape of Champagne and Chablis wines. However, a “glass of Chardonnay” in the U.S. is almost synonymous with a generic “glass of white wine.” White Burgundy must be Chardonnay unless it says so. Chardonnay takes oak well, which is unusual for white wines, and California Chardonnays are typically aged in oak barrels. Thus, it can be quite versatile, and may be just about any flavor depending on the duration of barrel aging and whether it is aged in stainless steel or full oak barrels. Chardonnay also ages well in the bottle, though it will not age as long as reds. It likes cool climate, has a good acid balance, and is naturally higher in alcohol than most wines.
That being said, way back when in the late 1970s here in El Dorado County, Chardonnay was a must plant variety and so we did with cuttings from both Boeger’s steep north-facing block right next to the winery and the Stonebarn Vineyard hilltop. Did we or do we expect to make the world’s best Chardonnay? No, but good respectable Chardonnay is always within our reach as long as we make Chardonnay in a style that best fits our fruit, grown in our soil, under our climate and not force some other region’s cookbook recipe for Chardonnay.
So, what do we do that’s different?
First, I want to harvest all the freshness I can by picking at about 23–24 brix when there are both green and golden berries present.
Second with the help of a temperature controlled cold fermentation in SS tank with an exciting yeast or two, I capture both the aromas, esters and fruit flavors of the grape.
Third, when fermentation is near complete after 3–4 weeks, I rack the new wine off its gross lees and into a combination of 50% brand new toasted oak barrels and the other 50% in more neutral barrels or SS drums to age.
Fourth, after blending trials, the wine is blended and slightly acid adjusted if necessary, cold and heat stabilized with chilling and bentonite clay, filtered and bottled quickly to retain all that is good about our Chardonnay.
We come along way since I started making Chardonnay and our new vintages consistently show we’ve found our way with this Queen of White Wines (sometimes we actually call it the Queen’s Gold). And for the humble price of $12, I challenge you to find a hand-crafted Chardonnay of better value.