Chardonnay— this grape is grown in almost every well-known growing appellation in the world. In California alone, the state crushed 735,777 tons of fruit and produced of 53 million cases for the 2012 vintage according to the Wine Institute. With consumer popularity at over 13%, it has dominated the market and holds ranking as the most popular white wine variety in the United States.
Why are we so passionate about this grape? What makes our mouths water we when see the name? Chardonnay was not always this famous in the US; the grape gained market traction after the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. Referred to as the Judgment of Paris, a Napa Valley Chardonnay producer outscored the French, thus upsetting years of tradition and the view that only quality Chardonnays were produced in the Burgundy region.
As interest for Chardonnay grew, winemakers started experimenting with various styles. One in particular, became the poster child for the American market. Wineries began to implement an optional fermentation process called malo-lactic fermentation for white wines. This secondary fermentation is known to give wine a rich flavor especially when paired along with new barrel aging and heavy toasting. Before long, California Chardonnays became notorious for their vanilla and buttery notes and as more drinkers relished in this distinct style, wineries started to scramble in order to produce enough to meet demand.
Some American winemakers prefer to take a more traditional approach and focus more on Chardonnay’s heritage when producing the wine. In contrast to the buttery, oaky style, the French tradition prohibits malo-lactic from occurring during the fermentation process. While utilizing the natural acidity found in the grape to help build structure, the winemaker balances the acidity by aging the wine in oak barrels to enhance the creamy mouth feel. This timeless practice was applied when American producers found their Chardonnays could be incredibly complex without overwhelming the palette.
As people continued to thirst for more Chardonnay, a new style was introduced and adapted by producers around the world— the use of stainless steel tanks in lieu of oak barrels. These wines do not spend time in barrel at all and rarely go through malo-lactic fermentation. Rather than focus on a creamy, rich palette, these wines are bright, acidic and crisp. They make for a wondering food pairing option, for simply relaxing by the pool, and have become a style of Chardonnay for any occasion. As a result of its popularity, many winemakers have adopted the stainless steel technique as an option for their consumers.
To answer the question from above— why are we so crazy for Chardonnay?
Maybe we’ll find the answer in the many stylistic differences that have led to the profound appreciation for this grape. With so many options, consumers can pick a Chardonnay based on their unique palette. Here at Foley Family, we pride ourselves on having one of the best portfolios for the Chardonnay advocate. Whether you love the big and buttery flavors of the Chalk Hill Russian River Chardonnay, the silky and creamy palette of the Kuleto Estate Napa Valley or the bright and citrusy style of Lincourt’s Steel Chardonnay from Santa Rita Hills, there’s Chardonnay just for you.