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Chardonnay Finds its Perfect Balance

California Chardonnay has swung from lush to skinny and back again in the past two decades, and finally the pendulum has come to rest

Chardonnay’s reputation has morphed repeatedly in recent decades. It’s been as subject to fashion as clothing choices on the high street, swinging between bold and ripe styles in the early 2000s to the lean and racy wines of the past decade. With such swiftly changing style trends, many began to believe the variety couldn’t be taken seriously. But more recently, winemakers have begun to find a happy middle ground, balancing mouthwatering flavour with respect for what the vineyard gives them. This polarity of Chardonnay styles is an evolution that has taken place not only in California but in New Zealand and Australia, and wherever the variety is found in the New World. But its journey has not been smooth.

In California, Chardonnay became white wine royalty in the 1980s; drinkers couldn’t get enough of the state’s bright, ripe fruit flavours. But as its popularity grew, so did its style, with wines by the end of the 1990s and early 2000s becoming not only riper but also richer, almost always with a signature buttery and oak-spice flavour. ‘Bigger flavours were the taste of the day,’ says Andy Smith, viticulturist and wine­maker at DuMOL in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. ‘In the late 1990s and early 2000s, chefs were cooking with lots of pork fat and richness. The wines reflected that.’

As the wines became larger, so did the backlash: the Anything But Chardonnay (ABC) movement formed, and two California vintners, Jasmine Hirsch and Rajat Parr, decided they’d had enough. In 2011, the pair created a countermovement promoting a different option for California wine. In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) lasted only five years and had just 36 members at its close, but in that short time it gave rise to more controversy and discussion than an event its size seemed to merit. The impact of the annual IPOB programme in California – and its counterpart events all over the world – was greater than….

To keep reading this article, click through to the Club Oenologique website where it can be read in full free-for-all. The article was originally published in the 1st edition of their print magazine, released in October 2018. Here’s the direct link to the article on their website: https://cluboenologique.com/story/chardonnay-finds-its-perfect-balance/


Batonnage Forum Resources listed online!


Batonnage Forum Resources

During the Departing Dysfunction session that opened the Batonnage Forum earlier this month we shared some resources for employers, employees, and the community. Those are all available online now on the Batonnage website. Based on the questions that arose during discussion we added additional resources for small business owners, women-owned businesses, and helping farmworkers. We have also included the PDF for a pamphlet specifically looking at sexual harassment.

Here’s the direct link to the list of resources: https://www.batonnageforum.com/resources

Post edit: Link corrected

Listen to the Batonnage Forum! Audio now available online


Batonnage Forum 2019

The Batonnage Forum this year covered a range of challenging topics including the role of sex and appearance in selling wine, how to present yourself professionally in a work situation, the differences and needs for building not only inclusion and diversity but belonging in our communities, and departing dysfunction.

The Batonnage team has made all of the audio available online so that anyone can listen to the seminars and talks in full.

Vinny Eng, Laura Judson, and myself opened the day’s discussions with a panel seminar on Departing Dysfunction. We looked at the conditions in the wine, food and beverage, and hospitality industry that make inappropriate work situations possible, ways to recognize when you are in a dysfunctional, harmful, or abusive situation, and how we can shift to fostering respectful work situations as a community. The direct link to the audio for our session can be found here: https://www.batonnageforum.com/panel1

Rebecca Hopkins gave a key note address talking through practical tips on how to be taken more seriously in our work environments, discussing simple ways to shift body language and tone to get stronger response, while also exploring the challenges women often face in work communication. The direct link to her session’s audio is here: https://www.batonnageforum.com/womentalk-wholistens

After a lunch break two more sessions happened in the afternoon.

In the first, a panel of people from across the country and industry considered what it takes to foster not only inclusion but belonging for more a more diverse work force. The session was moderated by Nicole Ruiz and included Rebecca Duecy, June Rodil, Akilah Cadet, Bibiana Gonzalez Rave, and Jehan Hakimia as speakers. Here’s the link to that audio: https://www.batonnageforum.com/panel2

The final session of the day considered the role of attire and appearance, as well as behavior in women selling wine asking to what extent women’s sexual attractiveness and general interactions with men inform wine sales and women’s careers. The session was moderated by Sarah Bray and included speakers Jennifer Reichardt, Melissa Sutherland, Monica Samuels, and Karen Williams. The audio for that session is here: https://www.batonnageforum.com/panel3

If you’d like to listen to each session in order, as well as the opening address from Stevie Stacionis, then head straight to this page where all of the audio appears side by side near the bottom of the page: https://www.batonnageforum.com/2019-forum


The Wine Makers podcast interview me!

The Wine Makers

Sonoma County has its own wine podcast with local wine experts Sam Coturri, Bart Hansen, Brian Casey, and John Myers. They asked if I could join the show and we had a hilarious, and ranging hour long conversation about my life before wine, how I got started in wine, and how my previous career in philosophy informs what I do now. We cover everything from how smart camels are to my work as a 1-900 psychic, what it’s like to grow up in Alaska then end up living in California, among many other things.

Be sure to check out other episodes of The Wine Makers too via the Radio Misfits website. They’ve interviewed tons of North Coast California wine personalities and always with a bit of a raucous attitude.

Have a listen!

Here’s the direct link to the podcast with me: https://radiomisfits.com/twm100/

Huge thank you to Sam, Brian, and Bart for hosting me – looking forward to seeing you next time, John!

Ridge Vineyards almost before they had any

Elaine goes to the mountain.

In California wine circles we sometimes entertain ourselves with questions like, what would you argue is the most American wine? Or, which wine do you think most successfully placed California wine on the world stage? Or, what do you think is the most respected winery in the United States? Inevitably, one winery – Ridge – is an answer, if not the answer, to each of these questions.

Ridge Monte Bello is considered by many to be among the best wines in the world, and certainly among the most, if not the most famous, from California. Through its Monte Bello Cabernet-based bottling, Ridge helped show that California wine could compete with the most respected wines in the world (check out our Judgment of Paris tag). At the same time, no other winery in California has done so much to elevate Zinfandel from its early reputation as jug wine to fine wine respectability.

Ridge Vineyards began working with old-vine, field blend sites planted primarily to Zinfandel (otherwise known here in California as a Mixed Blacks vineyard) in the mid-1960s. The producer’s treatment of Zinfandel was unique at the time. Instead of treating the wine as an after thought, they made Zinfandel essentially the same way they did their top wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon that would come to be known as Monte Bello. Since then, no other winery has worked with as many Mixed Blacks vineyards in the state. As an additional stamp of respectability, Ridge also bottled them specifically as single-vineyard wines. The winery has worked with such sites the entire length and breadth of California, including many vineyards that no longer exist, and some in parts of southern California where few remember that such vineyards ever existed.

Most of these wines are limited to bottlings made available only to members of the winery’s Advance Tasting Program (effectively their wine club). The Geyserville and Lytton Springs wines, both Mixed Blacks vineyards from Sonoma County, however, are released to a broader market. Thanks to their history and status, both of these can also arguably be included alongside Monte Bello for consideration as examples of the most iconic American wine.

In the last few months I have been able to do a series of in-depth tastings and all-day interviews with the Ridge team. The first of these was in October when 50 MWs from 16 countries descended upon California for a 10-day tour of the state’s wine country. I was lucky enough to be the only non-MW to join the entire trip and its tastings. After several days on the road we arrived at Monte Bello for a special visit with the entire Ridge team. Though he retired in 2016 at the age of 80, Paul Draper helped lead the visit. (Draper remains chairman of Ridge’s board.) He guided us through….

To continue reading this article, and see my illustration of the twenty-vintage vertical of Corison Kronos, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full here: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/ridge-vineyards-almost-before-they-had-any You will need a subscription to continue reading it.

A subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

‘Overstuffed’ wines analysed

A Purple Pager asked Elaine a question after her recent account of a vertical of Corison Kronos and the answer is surely interesting enough to share. 

Peggy Baudon wrote:

I absolutely loved the article about your vertical tasting of Corison’s wines. The tasting visual (see right) is a beautiful representation of the evolution of the wines.

I have a question about your paragraph describing some wines coming out of California as having a sense of ‘compression and compaction’ despite being picked early but not having the overt ripeness and alcohol of many other wines. I have been contemplating this type of character in wines I’ve been tasting from right bank Bordeaux and have been trying to:

a. accurately express the character of the wine and

b. determine what vinification processes are being used to achieve such results.

As a description of this type of ‘stuffed’ wine I certainly appreciated your analogy of stuffing as much as possible into a rucksack. When I taste such a wine, I often feel a bit claustrophobic, as though I am also being stuffed into the glass with no air to breathe. It was a relief to read such an astute description of this type of wine style.

As a wine student though, I have not ascertained the vinification process/es that have contributed to this style. I wonder if you might have some information or feedback about vinification processes that may be used in California to achieve this effect in wine (or even in France). Thus far, I have narrowed down my guesses to reverse osmosis and vacuum distillation as ways to reduce water content in the must/wine and therefore leaving more ‘stuff’ in the wine (and therefore less ‘space’ and making it ‘feel oppressive on the palate’ as you eloquently described). However, I am also wondering if flash détenteor thermovinification might have an additional hand in the process/es. It has been difficult to find information on the vinification of these types of wines – not surprisingly since they can be described as a ‘trick’ to adjust the wine unnaturally. Not many winemakers would wish to be called out in such a way.

Any feedback or guidance about vinification methods to achieve these effects in wine would be so greatly appreciated!

Elaine Chukan Brown replied:

Thank you so much for your kind email. I am so happy to read that you appreciated the article and that that description of the wine style made sense to you. I’ve been confronted by that sort of ‘overstuffed’ wine repeatedly and had spent time thinking through how to explain the experience of tasting them. It is good to know that the description of the overstuffed rucksack I used obviously made sense to you with your own tasting experience.

In terms of how such wines are made, I can offer explanations on a few possible cellar choices that might help give some perspective. Of course there would be variations on which techniques are used depending on particular wines but here are some thoughts that could help with the overall picture. More technical information ….

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where it appears free-for-all to read. Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/overstuffed-wines-analysed

Napa Valley Premiere and the 2017 Vintage

Elaine Chukan Brown reports on the annual Napa Valley Premiere – a preview of Napa’s latest vintage – where buyers bid on wines made specially for the auction


The crowd erupted into cheers. Winemaker Aaron Pott stood on stage and grabbed the microphone. “Are you ready?” he yelled. “Let’s get it on!” More than 1200 wine trade professionals – winemakers, sales people, buyers, and journalists – filled the upstairs hall of Greystone, home to the Culinary Institute of America and one of Napa Valley’s most venerated historic buildings. Dance music burst through the speakers and the crowd cheered wildly. The annual Napa Valley Premiere auction, with Pott as this year’s honorary chairman, had officially begun.

Over the next four hours 185 auction lots were sold to raise almost $3.7 million “to help the Napa Valley Vintners and their ongoing effort to promote, protect, and enhance” California’s most renowned wine region.

Napa Valley Premiere is a preview of Napa’s latest vintage. It’s a model originated by Bordeaux and brought to a level of indulgent celebration only possible in California. The day comes with surprise musical interludes, and snack breaks of artisanal foods made in the region.

Unlike Bordeaux, buyers at Premiere bid on unique wines made specially for the auction. Buyers range from retail giants looking to score coveted brands at ….

To keep reading this article, head on over to Club Oenologique where you can read it in its entirety free-for-all. Here’s the direct link: https://cluboenologique.com/story/napa-valley-premiere-and-the-2017-vintage/

IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year Shortlist – that’s me!

Every year, the International Wine & Spirits Competition, one of the most prestigious wine judging groups in the world, requests nominations for their prestigious Wine Communicator of the Year award. Writers, speakers, educators, and broadcasters from all over the world are considered and then a shortlist of who they deem the top five are selected based on their contributions in wine for the previous year. The most respected wine communicators in the world have won over the last two decades. I am deeply honored, grateful, and a bit overwhelmed to announce I have been named as one of the top five based on both my writing and speaking/seminar work. Enormous thanks to the International Wine & Spirits Competition for the recognition. Thank you too to those who nominated me. I am so grateful.

Here’s a link to their quick article announcing my inclusion: https://www.iwsc.net/news/iwsc/iwsc-wine-communicator-shortlist-elaine-chukan-brown

Corison Kronos – a vertical of Napa restraint

Elaine was treated to the unique luxury of tasting every vintage of Cathy Corison’s very special single-vineyard Cabernet. Cathy herself was due to taste them the next day but Elaine was the first commentator ever to do so. 

One of Napa Valley’s most celebrated and respected winemakers, Cathy Corison, launched her eponymous winery in 1987 with a single wine – Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine reflected Corison’s commitment to elegance and restraint, a style that would soon become uncommon in her region as the power wines of the 1990s and early 2000s took over. However, even as trends changed, Corison maintained course, focusing solely on wine made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards planted in the well-drained, gravelly bale loam soils of the Mayacamas bench in what has since been named the St Helena AVA.

The St Helena AVA constitutes a particularly distinctive portion of the Napa Valley in that temperatures throughout the area are high enough during the day to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon adequately to make single-varietal wines of distinction. At the same time, in most vintages night-time temperatures drop below vine respiration levels, thus preserving the potential for freshness and acidity in the wine.

Famed winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff called the gravelly bale loam soils of the Mayacamas bench on Napa Valley’s western side ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon. All Corison Cabernet vineyards, as well as the winery pictured below, are planted ….

To continue reading this article, and see my illustration of the twenty-vintage vertical of Corison Kronos, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full here: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/corison-kronos-a-vertical-of-napa-restraint. You will need a subscription to continue reading it.

A subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

All change for Qupé and the Lindquists

photo by Fran Collin
From Lifetime Achievement Award to a brand new enterprise.

On Wednesday it was announced that Bob Lindquist, one of California’s most respected winemakers, will no longer be making Qupé wines, and as of 1 March he will no longer be involved with the winery. Vintage Wine Estates (VWE) has taken sole ownership of Qupé and is moving its winemaking from Santa Maria to their newly purchased Laetitia winery. Laetitia is located in San Luis Obispo County, and together the two winery purchases – Qupé and Laetitia – represent VWE’s first expansion into the Central Coast. Previously VWE was focused entirely in the North Coast making brands such as B R Cohn, Layer Cake, and the cheekily named Game of Thrones wines.

Lindquist and his wife Louisa Sawyer-Lindquist will instead be launching a new project, Lindquist Family wines. The new winery will be focused on Rhône varieties, as well as Chardonnay, much as the original Qupé did under Lindquist’s leadership. Lindquist’s plan for his new winery, however, is to remain small. ‘I only want one partner this time, and that’s my wife, Louisa,’ he says. The couple will also continue making Verdad, a small-production label focused on Spanish varieties.

All Verdad and Lindquist Family wines will continue to be made in the winery tucked into the back of Bien Nacido vineyard that Lindquist and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, and Clendenen Family wines have shared for decades (see Au Bon Climat – lunch and more). The first Lindquist Family wine, a 2017 Grenache from the Sawyer-Lindquist vineyard (a biodynamically farmed site in the Edna Valley), will be released later this spring after being bottled in April.

Partial ownership of Qupé was originally sold five years ago as part of a long-term succession plan. Terroir Wine Fund founder Charles Banks approached Lindquist with an interest in helping to expand production of some of ….

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where it appears free-for-all to read. Here’s the direct link to the article: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/all-change-for-qup-and-the-lindquists