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California shines the spotlight on latest Chardonnay trends and issues

Published:  21 May, 2014

Over 50 Chardonnay producers from Santa Barbara to Napa Valley and Sonoma County came together to discuss the latest trends and issues surrounding this key wine varietal at the 5th Annual Chardonnay Symposium held last weekend in Pismo Beach, California.

The event brought together wine consumers, industry professionals, and media from around the world to taste and explore Chardonnay over two days of wine tasting, food pairing, complete with seminar and panel sessions.

This year marked significant changes to the event as ownership recently changed hands from the previous organiser, Santa Maria Wine Country Association. The most notable change to this year's event was the new venue at Dolphin Bay Resort, which for many demonstrated a vast improvement, offering a more aesthetically pleasing setting and attracting more consumers. 

Katie O'Hara, Marketing Director at Au Bon Climat said: "This year is much more consumer-focused; the smaller venue allows for a lot more one on one time and it is a fun way to educate the consumer without preaching."

The symposium also attracted international producers including Domaine Laroche (France) and Kumeu River Winery (New Zealand).

The seminar and panel session offered discussion and insight into topics including the effect of climate change on the evolution of the Chardonnay variety and the role of interventionist techniques, which solicited divergent views from participating wineries. Whilst some advocated for the buttery oak bombs on which California has built an international reputation, others embraced the growing trend towards employing a more restrained approach in the wine cellar and allowing the vineyard site to dictate the end product.

Anne Moses founder of Patz & Hall Wines insisted that although some winemakers are advocating for more "balanced" wines, the big and bold California Chardonnays, like those of Rombauer Vineyards in Napa Valley, are still in high demand. "Rombauer is still the best selling Chardonnay," she said. "It is the gateway Chardonnay."

Offering another view on the topic, Tom Chamian, key account specialist at Californian producer, Duckhorn Vineyards, celebrated the fact Duckhorn's Chardonnay range is continually evolving, using less oak and placing less emphasis on malolactic fermentation. "Duckhorn never wanted to make the big style, but it began in a very cool climate and something had to be done to balance the acidity," he said.

Duckhorn Wine Company has now acquired vineyards in many of California's best Chardonnay-producing regions, including the renowned Russian River Valley, and aims to produce restrained, site-driven and food-friendly styles of Chardonnay. "[The Chardonnay Symposium] offers a chance to talk to restaurants and show them, along with consumers, how Chardonnay can pair with food," said Chamian.

Despite their differing views on winemaking, the majority of wineries agreed on the importance of coming together for a strictly Chardonnay-driven event to build awareness of this versatile grape variety. "This is one of the few Chardonnay events, most in California are red wine driven," said Moses.

The Chardonnay Symposium was held at Dolphin Bay Resort in Pismo Beach, CA on May 16 and 17.