As described by the Vancouver International Wine Festival about this seminar, “California Chardonnay shocked the wine world at the 1976 Judgement in Paris and has carried on powering the family-owned and operated Jackson Family Wines for more than 35 years. Join us as we journey from the Russian River to Santa Barbara exploring California’s Next Chardonnay with acclaimed Winemaster Randy Ullom.”
Our Moderator was Anthony Gismondi and panellist was Randy Ullom from Jackson Family Wines & Kendall-Jackson wines. Randy lives and works in California, but learned about wine and his love of wine in an extended trip to Chile as a young adult. Randy noted that as you go from north to south along the coast, the flavours of the Chardonnay grape from (the north) crisp green apple -> ripe apple -> pear -> lemon lime -> tropical fruit (in the south). The Northern California coast gets daily fog which comes in at night and slowly burns off in the morning. The fog helps keep the grapes cooler through the growing season, which helps make the growing season longer so that the grapes can reach full phenolic ripeness. The closer to the coast, of course, the more fog you get. Elevation also affects temperature, so grapes growing at higher elevations along mountainsides in California will also get a longer growing season.
Our Featured Wines
- Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016
- La Crema
- Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2016
- Vineyard Saralee’s Chardonnay 2016
- Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2017
- Jackson Estate Camelot Highlands Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2016
- Jackson Estate Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2016
- Jackson Estate Seco Highlands Arroyo Seco Chardonnay 2017
- Jackson Estate Fulton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2017
- Jackson Estate Petaluma Gap Cloud Landing Chardonnay 2017
- Grand Reserve Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2017
The above labels are all part of the Jackson Family of Wines. The winemaker for these wines, Randy Ullom, provided us with background on each wine, including the County the grapes were sourced along the coast, length of barrel aging, type of barrel (e.g. French oak), age of barrel (new or used), and if the wine also went through a secondary malolactic fermentation, to soften the malic acids in the wines, and turn them into the more buttery lactic acids.
All the wines we tasted were fermented in French oak barrels, which is what the American market likes. Randy mentioned how barrel fermentation adds to the mid-palate and makes the wine bigger, rounder, and richer. I can understand enjoying butterscotch, toast, vanilla, and oak flavours of some degree in a Chardonnay to complement the fruit flavours and adding texture to the wine.
My Tasting Notes
- Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016 – 100% Chardonnay from the cooler Carneros and Howell Mountain regions of Napa Valley. 0% malolactic fermentation with 82% of the wine aged in French oak. The wine had a nice butterscotch, tropical fruit, pear and roasted apple nose. Light bodied, medium acid with a soft mouthfeel. Tropical fruits and ripe pear flavours with light pepperiness and tart acidity on the finish. Lingering flavours. I enjoyed this wine and thought it made a nice pairing with popcorn. –
- La Crema
- Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2016 – This Chardonnay comes from the Russian River Valley from various vineyards and clones. All the grapes are barrel fermented, then aged for 10 months in 100% French oak; 33% new oak. This wine is a deeper lemon in colour. Medium intensity toasty, butterscotch and ripe tropical fruit aromas. Medium body, silky with a soft mouthfeel, but has some tannins to give it structure. Buttery finish. Light tropical fruit, apple, baked pears, brioche (lees), nuttiness and sweet spice flavours. Buttery and medium intensity pepperiness on the finish. Deep aromatics. One of my favourite wines of the evening. –
- Single Vineyard Saralee’s Chardonnay 2016 – To Canadians, SaraLee will be chocolates and cakes, but there is also a Saralee in Napa. Saralee Kunde owned this vineyard with Chardonnay vines, which was then purchased by the Jackson Family Wines. This vineyard is located in the middle of the Russian River Valley and gets the daily fog coming from the Pacific Ocean. The grapes are barrel fermented for up to 1 month then goes through a malolactic fermentation that can take up to 2 months. The wine is aged for 9 months in 100% French oak; 29% new oak. Medium plus lemon colour in the glass. Medium minus aromatic intensity, showing pears, sweet spices, butterscotch and baby powder. Medium minus body, semi-round with a lighter mouthfeel. Medium acidity. Lighter intensity flavours of pears, roasted apples, sweet spices and vanilla. Medium plus length. Another very nice wine. –
- Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2017 – This is the Kendall-Jackson’s wine that started their business and is at a great price point around $24. The grapes come from 4 different growing regions across Monterey, Santa Barbara, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties. 92% of the grapes are barrel fermented and aged for 6 months in a mix of French and American oak. The wines are aged sur lee, meaning the lees stay in the barrel. Every month each barrel is hand stirred 7 strokes. Considering they make 2.5 million cases of wine that makes a lot of barrels to hand stir! This is the #1 Chardonnay in the USA for the past 25 years. The wine is a medium lemon in colour. It has a light apple skin, apple, pears, dried mango, and light butterscotch nose. It is off-dry, medium minus body, medium acidity, and has a semi-round mouthfeel. Flavours of baked apple, pears and light sweet spices. A little hot at the back of the throat on the finish. –
- Jackson Estate Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2016 – The Santa Maria Valley is located in Santa Barbara County. This wine spent 8 months in French oak barrels ageing; 34% new oak. The wine also underwent full malolactic fermentation with lees stirring every 2 weeks. Medium plus lemon colour in the glass. Mostly toasted oak with lesser lemon on the nose. Medium minus body, dry and found with medium intensity fruit flavours. Prominent toasted oak and butterscotch with subdued tropical fruit flavours. Give this wine time to age in the bottle and let the oak tone down a bit I think. –
- Jackson Estate Seco Highlands Arroyo Seco Chardonnay 2017 – The grapes for this wine come from the dry breezy Arroyo Seco area in Monterey County. The Chardonnay clones used in this wine are quite interesting; Z and Rued. They are said to have a floral, citrus and muscat aromatics and flavours. I indeed picked up a muscat nose, with spearmint, honey and oranges. Medium plus body, round with a thicker mouthfeel. Light orange, tropical fruit and sweet spice flavours. Peppery finish. A different Chardonnay for sure, and very tasty!
- Jackson Estate Fulton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2017 – These grapes come from the Russian River Valley from a blend of Chardonnay clones. The wine is aged for 9.5 months in French oak barrels; 29% new oak. Deeper lemon in colour. An interesting, pretty nose, with aromas of spearmint, floral, lemon, butterscotch and vanilla. Medium minus body, very silky and round, medium acidity, with a medium mouthfeel. Caramel, tropical fruit baked apple, light sweet spices and light pepperiness on the palate. Longer, soft finish. A delicate wine.
- Jackson Estate Petaluma Gap Cloud Landing Chardonnay 2017 – The grapes for this wine come from the windy Petaluma Gap. This is a very new AVA, formed just 1 year ago. It is adjacent to Carneros and has a similar climate. This wine is barrel aged for 10 months in French oak barrels; 35% new oak. The wine has a medium lemon colour. Very light citrus and flint nose. Lighter, silky mouthfeel and light acidity. Baked apple, citrus, sweet spice and light vanilla flavours.
- Grand Reserve Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2017 – Comes from Santa Barbara County. This region had an early spring and a slow growing season of 200 days to allow full phenolic ripeness. The wine was aged for 9 months in 81% French oak; 28% new oak, and the balance in American oak. Medium minus lemon colour. Light intensity nose showing lemon, honey and stony notes. Medium plus body, smooth with a lighter mouthfeel and lower acidity. Light intensity flavours of apple, pineapple, sweet spices, vanilla/butterscotch and possibly some apricot. I also picked up some minerality in this wine.
- Jackson Estate Camelot Highlands Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2016 – Another wine from the Santa Maria Valley. This wine is made from only Chardonnay Clone 4 grapes and all come from 40+ year old vines. Medium plus lemon in colour. Nice, ripe, deep aromas of ripe pineapple, pears and orange marmalade. Fuller body, round and mouth-filling. Medium minus acidity leaving a soft mouthfeel. Ripe pineapple, vanilla, a hint of lime skin, and oak on the palate. Some spiciness and cinnamon on the finish. A liquid meal.
My Highlight Wines
My highlight wines were both from the La Crema winery, which surprised me as I thought as there were many more Kendall-Jackson wines to taste. I’ve been to the La Crema winery many years ago, and I recall at that time really enjoying their wines. So maybe my preferences for California Chardonnay persist? I also really thought the Arroyo Seco wine was quite unique and I’d love to have family and friends try this wine and see how clones can affect how a wine tastes. I hope you enjoy reading about these wines and will have a chance to buy some at a government liquor store or private bottle shop.