Saturday, April 4, 2015

It's in the Chardonnay

It is always worth it when customers come into the tasting room and try a wine that makes their faces light up. Especially when it's a chardonnay - an Oregon one nonetheless.

Over the past few months, I have been conducting interviews with several winemakers, vineyard managers, and winery owners in regards to this very special wine of Oregon. It has a bit of a tattered history in the state, but so much excitement is driving this wine into the spotlight. The creative energy is mind-blowing and the thought behind it is mind-boggling. Everyone has something to say about Oregon chardonnay and the conversations around it have not been heard since the early days when pinot noir gained wide support from the vintners of the valley.

But why?

An obvious element about Oregon chardonnay is that one, so little of it is made, and two, there is hardly a customer voice in the conversation. These two obvious elements perpetuate one another so much so that it is next impossible to get a glass of such a short-supplied wine in the hands of a consumer (at least one in primary markets where categories can be developed and solidified) so that they can say what they think about the wine. Or how they experience it, rather. And in that experience of the first sip, we begin to understand why Oregon chardonnay is such a big deal.

In a correspondence I have had with Becky Wasserman since my return from Burgundy, I have asked how to respond to the above conundrum. In what seemed to be a bit of a chortle, Becky responded that they key in getting Oregon chardonnays (which face the same challenges as Alsatian white wines) to the consumer's attention is to correspond with a couple wine writers of repute (especially those sympathetic to Oregon cause), perform a tasting in a primary market with mentioned writers and two or three sommeliers of note, as well as notable retailers, and to do so after a best research.

So now I have my project, though in a tight deadline.

It was not until recently I gained access to statistical data about the planting and selling of chardonnay in Oregon over the past few decades, as well as the scores of chardonnays reported over the last 15 years. It is certainly helpful to see this, though I think a tasting through Oregon chardonnays and discussion about their innate characteristics and attributes is necessary to round out the picture. Winemakers are extremely helpful, but generalities can only be made from general opinion, and when hard-pressed with critical inquiry, the answer boils down to creative choices based on personal tastes (within certain parameters). I am meeting with owners of vineyards who kept their original chardonnay vines to hear their story - why?

It is this story that I am seeking to write and share. Perhaps it is this story, too, that is in the glass and makes our faces light up.

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