The Story of California Chardonnay – part 3

See part 1 and part 2 of this four-part history of California’s most popular grape variety. 

The globalisation of California Chardonnay: the 1980s to the 2000s 

With a few exceptions, by the end of the 1970s much of California Chardonnay was made with some period of skin contact after being run through the crusher, followed by cold fermentation with cultured yeast in temperature-controlled tanks, no malo, and ageing in new oak barrels. The result was a plethora of wines full of flavour upon release, and plenty of impact. But it is worth noting that during this period the wines were not as alcoholic as later California Chardonnays and were more commonly around or below 13%. Even the richest examples were below 13.5%.

In 1981, Frank Prial wrote an article for The New York Timesthat would help begin a shake up of California’s newfound Chardonnay style. Without naming any producers beyond generally noting ‘a famous North Coast winery’, and referring to Chardonnays of the region more broadly, Prial described his issue with the wines. His critique seemed exactly counter to the goals of immediate flavour sought by many of the trend-setting producers of the time. As he explains, he brought two wines to dinner, one a California Chardonnay and the other a white burgundy. ‘Both were Chardonnays, from optimum vintages and in the same price range. At first the California wine was impressive and the French wine seemed weak and bland. Twenty minutes into the meal, however, the American wine was clumsy and overpowering while the charm and subtlety of the French wine was only beginning to emerge.’

David Ramey told me that Prial’s article had an important impact on California wine and caused producers to begin rethinking their approach to winemaking. The timing was significant. For the first time in recent history, the North Coast of California had a plethora ….

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the rest of the article appears free-for-all to read. Part 1 of the piece appeared there Monday, part 2 Wednesday. The 4th, and final part, will publish Friday. Here’s the direct link to part 3: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-3

Happiest of Holidays to everyone!

Part 1: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-1

Part 2: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-2

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