Chardonnay Gaining Ground

“We are Pinot Noir" doesn't ring like it once did

Chardonnay’s popularity is rising in Oregon.##Photo By Ales Maze on Unsplash

By Greg Norton

“We are Pinot Noir.”

The statement, superimposed on expansive vineyard drone footage at the Willamette Valley Wineries Association’s website, declares Pinot reigns supreme. But what about white wine? In Burgundy, France, the answer is Chardonnay. Could the same soon be equally true in the Willamette Valley?

Wine lovers often link Chardonnay with Pinot Noir since both varieties produce wines reflecting the place they are grown. Around the world, Chardonnay ranges from the crisp elegance of Chablis and Champagne, to more opulent versions from California and Australia. British wine expert Jancis Robinson wrote, “at its best, Chardonnay, like Pinot Noir, is merely a vehicle for the character of the vineyard in which it is grown.” Across America, Chardonnay is the best-selling variety of wine. And yet, Pinot Gris outpaces it in the Willamette Valley.

That situation may be changing.

“Until very recently, I had not planted Pinot Gris since ’06,” said Evan Bellingar, Director of Vineyard Operations at Results Partners, a vineyard management service in Oregon and Washington. “Most folks are planting predominantly Pinot Noir, some Chardonnay and perhaps a small experiment of another variety.”

Chardonnay has grown in the Willamette Valley since the 1960s. But the variety is enjoying what could best be described as a “golden age.” Winemakers have a wider variety of clones from which to blend, greater attention to where they are planted, harvest timing and even the warming climate. “The number one reason for the uptick in interest in Oregon Chardonnay is that it is very good,” said Marcus Goodfellow, winemaker and owner of Goodfellow Family Cellars. “There’s a really authentic push behind the wine that comes from the wine-producing community being really excited about Chardonnay.”

Higher prices for both grapes and bottles of finished wine also make Chardonnay more attractive economically for growers and producers. Currently, Chardonnay’s portion of the Valley’s producing acreage stands at seven percent. But as new plantings come into production, that number may as much as double, according to Bree Stock, Director of Education for Oregon Wine Board, speaking at a webinar during Oregon Wine Month. Currently, Chardonnay’s potential for world-class quality is driving the current excitement.

“I might be stating the obvious, but Chardonnay tastes good,” says Bellingar. “The best Chardonnay is memorable and delicious. Each time I drink a great one, I think ‘I want more of that.’”

While the Willamette Valley is renowned for its Pinot Noir, New York Times’s wine critic Eric Asimov recently called Oregon “the source of some of the best American Chardonnays being made today.” Perhaps consumers will soon regard these two varieties together as representing the best of our region.

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