The Story of California Chardonnay – part 4

The final instalment of this four-part history of California’s most popular grape variety. See also part 1part 2 and part 3

Broadening the range of styles: 2000 to today 

As the ABC movement took hold, wine lovers turned away from California Chardonnay, and restaurant wine lists throughout the United States reduced by-the-glass selections largely to only one key Chardonnay. Rombauer and Kendall Jackson Reserve became benchmarks for more generous renditions of the state’s number one variety. Kendall Jackson Reserve was launched in the mid 1980s and by the 2000s had become the standard for a rich style of Chardonnay with a bit of residual sugar. It filled a previously untapped spot in the market selling as a mid-priced wine, neither as expensive as boutique wines, nor as cheap as mere jug wine. Kendall Jackson was marketed as a wine for anyone. While its style of relying on residual sugar was less common upon its release, by the end of the 1990s it had been copied the world over.

Interestingly, in the case of Kendall Jackson Reserve, the residual sugar came not from Chardonnay itself but from blending in a small amount of unfinished, so sweet, Gewurztraminer. The wine was a multi-regional blend. While the everyday consumer couldn’t get enough of it, the specialist wine drinker turned away from Chardonnay because of it. Although higher-end customers and wine geeks criticised the variety, the state’s acreage did not significantly decrease. Sales of lower-priced Chardonnays remained strong. Premium producers whose style was championed by collectors seeking wines recommended by Parker and Wine Spectator directed sales towards this sort of collector, while producers of the more classic style relied on long-standing devotees as sales slowly decreased. The backlash of the ABC movement failed to distinguish between the different styles of Chardonnay.  As wine lovers turned away from California wines, interest in the fresher styles associated with Old World producers took hold. In California, even some of the celebrity producers of the riper styles began to consider bringing greater freshness to their approach.

Gaining acclaim for generous wines in the late 1990s, DuMOL winemaker Andy Smith (pictured above right) was already beginning to reconsider his approach in the early 2000s. By 2003 when the winery began planting their own estate vineyard in the cool-climate part of Russian River Valley known as Green Valley, Smith made the decision to establish the vineyard in a manner that would support not only greater freshness but also more nuance in the wines. The DuMOL estate was established with California heritage clones.

Smith decided on the innate complexity of California heritage selections, rather than nursery clones, or heat-treated material from UC Davis. He selected budwood from the ….

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where it appears free-for-all to read. You will also find there each of the first three installments of the article, all of which Jancis published free-for-all as a Christmas present to readers. Here’s the direct link to the fourth installment: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-4

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

Part 3: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-3

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