This was the second seminar in our three seminars on Day 1 of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. This seminar’s goals according to the organizers are to answer the following, “Winegrowers love Chardonnay for its versatility. 10 winemakers will defend the stylistic decisions they make with each vintage, from homages to Old World classic styles to innovative interpretations that stretch the Chardonnay paradigm. Where does the winemakers’ preferences lie on the Chardonnay continuum and how is that style showcased in the glass?”
To answer this question, the i4C assembled a group of wine makers from Ontario, BC, California, France, Spain, and New Zealand. As this is cool-climate, you may wonder, why is Spain in the list? Isn’t it really hot there? In general Spain has a hot climate, but in the north, in certain areas, e.g. close to the ocean, on elevated mountain terrain, you can get cooler micro-climates where white grape varieties can thrive. We tasted a wine from a cooler micro-climate in the Catalunya area in northeastern Spain by Torres. Each wine maker provided us with a sample from a bottle of Chardonnay they made, and described to us their wine making technique for that wine, and their wines in general. 10 wine makers; 10 wines. Again the wines were not in order of speaker, so we had to guess as a group, which wine was made by which wine maker. A blind taste test.
The wine makers we had speak to us:
- Adam Mariani, Owner, Scribe Winery (California, USA)
- Mark Boardman, Invivo Wines (New Zealand)
- Francois Morissette, Vigneron, Pearl Morissette (Niagara, ON)
- Miguel Torres Jr., General Manager, Miguel Torres S.A (Spain)
- Norm Hardie, Owner & Winemaker, Norman Hardie Wines (Prince Edward County, ON)
- Gregory Viennois, Technical Director, Winemaking, Domaine Laroche (France)
- Martin Werner, Winemaker, Ravine Vineyard (Niagara, ON)
- Fintan du Fresne, Winemaker, Chamisal Vineyard (California, USA)
- Heidi Noble, Owner & Winemaker, Joie Farm (BC, Canada)
- Mackenzie Brisebois, Winemaker, Trail Estate Winery (Prince Edward County, Ontario)
Chardonnay I Do It My Way
Scribe Winery started in Sonoma in 2007. Their method is non-interventionist. Currently, the vines are 10 years old. Their vineyard was also a winery in the 1850s; one of the first commercial wineries in California, which was closed during Prohibition. Their vineyard is located at the base of Arrowhead Mountain, is made of volcanic soils, and faces southwest towards Carneros. Their wine today is a 2015 skin-fermented Chardonnay. They treat it like a red wine as it’s ferment on the skins. The grapes go into a concrete egg and fermented cold, low 50s Fahrenheit, for up to 6 weeks. They ferment their wine using native yeasts. After fermentation, we close the lid on the fermenter and the wine stays on the skins and seeds until mid-December. At first, we only did 1-2 weeks on the skins. Now they are braver and they leave the skin contact for 110 days (~16 weeks). They want to bring out every expression of the Chardonnay. Bring out more structure, tension, phenolics, and more backbone to marry with high acidity. They note that skin contact enhances the extraction of flavour and aromatics in the wine.
They don’t oxidize wine so it is not an “orange” wine. The concrete egg keeps the wine fresh and alive. They grow a particular clone of Chardonnay, 809, that is very aromatic, but loses its acidity. This clone did not perform well using traditionally white grape fermentation techniques, so they tried enhancing the structure through this process.
Two important factors influence our Chardonnay. 1. We want to respect the capabilities of our region and environment. We are not trying to make a $100 white Burgundy. In New Zealand we are far from French terroir so is futile to try to emulate it. Chardonnay is happy to grow in many areas around the world. Their 2016 wine, is its inaugural vintage. The grapes are sourced from Gisborne on the North Island, along the pacific coast, and bordered by mountains. The area receives high rainfall, and lots of sun. Gisborne is a warmer part of New Zealand. Their soil is ancient alluvial; it’s fertile and free draining. 2. Our philosophy is crafting wines that are most suitable style to our customers/markets, regardless of our preferences. Chardonnay needs to feel approachable on the palate. We try to respect our customers’ preferences. With New Zealand being primarily a Sauvignon Blanc producer we find consumers like either a Sauvignon Blanc that is fruity, sweet, fresh, and zingy, or a Chardonnay wine that is savory, rich, and softer. We try to make a wine that has both styles. How do we create this combined style? We pick Chardonnay grapes from Sauvignon Blanc growing regions that accentuate the tropical melon, pineapple character and use more traditional yeast for body and texture. Their wine is fruit-driven but not Sauv Blanc fruit-driven. They use a mix of old barrels to give another dimension on the palate. Crucially we let the wine stay for 10-11 months on the gross lees, not stirring the lees, giving the wine more depth and power, while keeping the fruit flavour.
Their 2014 vintage was extremely aromatic, but delicate. How did they preserve the delicacy in this vintage? They press the grapes over very long cycles, 4.5+ hrs, so that we don’t precipitate undesirable material. We do not settle the must after pressing. We do oxidize the must at this point, which is very different from most wine makers <wine makers typically oxidize wine through barrel aging>. After the must turns brown, we put it in tank to mix with other pressed must, then send the must to fermentation vessels. In 2014 we put the must in foudres that are 50-60 years old. These neutral vessels are meant to structure the wines, without adversely affecting it. We don’t like stainless steel tanks. This wine spent 15 months on primarily lees without stirring. After 15 months we rack and sediment/filter the wine. The stability in our wines are from the oxidization of the must in his opinion.
Miguel Torres Jr.
Most people know Spain for their red wines, but there are great white wines in the north within some micro-climates. This wine is from a single vineyard, Milmanda, with clay soil, in Catalunya. Clay is important to keep more the water as Spain is a dry country. The vineyard is high altitude for Catalunya, at 500m, and near a mountain to prevent the winds coming from the seas. 2014 was a cool vintage which was great for white wines in Spain. For Miguel, great wine has to come from a specific vineyard, with not too much manipulation in the winery. They use light wood touch, from 300 litre oak barrels. 50% of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation and the wine stays for 1 year in barrel.
Norm Hardie started his winery in 2003. Solids are very important to Norm. Solids represent terroir and earth; where the wines comes from. He uses indigenous yeast in the fermentation. If you look at the tank after pressing, the clear juice at top, with the solids mixed below. They let the must settle over 5 days, with no added enzymes. Over the 5 days the must gets hazier toward the bottom of the tank. After 5 days they chill the juice down, and siphon from the top down to the hazy solids. They take the solids down to the point where they think the “good” solids stop. When you ferment the must in a top vertical tank, the solids sit at the bottom. You get a small solid to juice ratio. Norm ferments using horizontal tanks which makes the solids to juice ratio higher, and hopefully shows terroir better in the glass.
Gregory is from the Chablis region of France. Chablis is cool climate. Our approach is to take care of each vineyard block. We do not use any pesticide. We use bees and birds to protect the vines. We plough the soil. The soil is the most important thing that we have to protect. In the cellar we have a very small press and we press each block separately. We do not use any enzymes. We undertake natural fermentation. Our wine making approach is more a philosophy than a specific technical approach.
They undertake organic viticulture. 2014 was pretty average in Growing Degree Days. They was really cool nights that shows through in the wine. They spacing of vines in Niagara creates a platform to promote fruitiness in the grapes according to Martin. They try to remove some of that fruitiness and show the vintage. They bring the fruit in from the vineyard, hand-pick to get rid of bad grapes, etc, then press to tank without cooling the must. They apply a little sulfur overnight, then send the must to barrel where they use indigenous yeast. After primary fermentation the wines undergoes full malolactic fermentation to further reduce the fruitiness. They leave their barrels more empty to try to get more oxygen into the fermentation to help remove the fruit characteristic as well.
Fintan du Fresne
Their vineyard is in the Edna Valley, which is the coolest wine grape growing region in California; near the Pacific Ocean, 5 miles away. They have a long growing season, but picking is getting earlier each year. We are trying to get away from traditional California Chardonnay (i.e. rich, buttery, oaky) and want more acidity. They are trying to combat exuberant fruitiness. They try to be non-interventionist, with very long pressing, no juice settling; sending the must directly to barrel. Fermentation uses 100% native yeast and then malolactic fermentation. The wine sits on it on its lees for approx 15 months. They use 80% new French oak barrels.
Chardonnay is Heidi’s favourite wine that they produce. Joie Farm’s wines are about “Juicidity“, a term they coined. Juicidity is defined as an intense core of ripe fruit amplified by juicy, mouth-watering acidity. Juicidity is definitely a hallmark of our growing area in the south Okanagan. How can you describe our area as cool climate when we are hot? The south Okanagan is part of the northern extent of the Sonoran Desert. She likes to add-on to the definition of cool climate, with “marginality as lake-moderated cool climate desert”. Our Chardonnay vines are 30 years old. She uses these grapes for her reserve, barrel-fermented, native yeast fermented program.
When you make Chardonnay, without oak, it is a “naked” expression of vintage at that site. When she makes unoaked Chardonnay she makes it in the vineyard. The grapes are picked at three different times; Once for acidity, once for flavour, and once for phenolics. She uses a straight forward wine making process: press and destem, soak, settle, take solids in racking, stainless steel ferment with little head space. This produces lots of aromatics. To show site she uses Champagne yeast. Little sulfur is needed as her wines have a low pH, e.g. 1.7. She makes her wines to go well with Pacific Northwest cuisine; seafood and shellfish. Her style of wine making goes with the cuisine in the area and as such does not use barrel in order to keep the freshness of the grape flavours and aromas.
The 2015 vintage was first full vintage at Trail Estate for Mackenzie. She had an idea of the style she wanted to make. The grapes were harvested from two vineyards by hand. She hyper oxidized the juice, cold settled it, then racked into stainless steel tanks, and undertook natural fermentation. Toward end of fermentation she placed the wine to barrel. 40% went into new oak. In the barrel the wines underwent full malolactic fermentation. Afterwards, the wines were left in barrel for 10 months, then bottled without sterile filtration. Not applying filtration is an old technique. Filtration in general is good so that the wine does not re-ferment or go through malolactic fermentation. She wanted to incorporate as little oxygen in the wine as possible after fermentation, so did not apply filtration. She feels that the wine is rounder and better represents terroir.
Listening to each of these wine makers, there are some commonalities. First, most use indigenous yeasts for their fermentation. Many apply a secondary malolactic fermentation, in part to tone down the fruit flavour. Fermentation vessels do vary; with some using barrels, and others keeping the fermentation in stainless steel. This does impact how much oxygen interacts with the must, which can affect the level of fruitiness you show from the grape. Many also allow the wine to rest on its lees for a while to bring out more texture and depth in the wine. My final observation is that some wine makers want to tone down the fruit flavours of their Chardonnay while others want to emphasize the fruit. Does toning down the fruit show terroir and soil more? Or maybe provides a balance between fruit and soil character? Or produces a wine that better pairs with the cuisine of their region?
Guessing Wine Maker With Their Wine
From the wine makers’ descriptions were we, in the audience, able to guess which wine they made? As in the Soil Smackdown, we did not have a perfect score but perhaps half of our guesses were correct. I think the wines we more accurately identified were from Ontario and the Okanagan, in part because of our familiarity with the wine styles, and wine aromas/flavours.
The wines we tasted and their associated wine maker:
- WINE 1: JoieFarm Un-Oaked Chardonnay 2016 – Winemaker: Heidi Noble
- WINE 2: Trail Estate Winery Chardonnay Unfiltered 2015 – Winemaker: Mackenzie Brisbois
- WINE 3: Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2014 – Winemaker: Norman Hardie
- WINE 4: Domaine Laroche Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaudevey 2014 – Winemaker: Grégory Viennois
- WINE 5:Invivo Gisborne Chardonnay 2016 – Winery Rep: Mark Boardman
- WINE 6: Scribe Skin Fermented Chardonnay 2015 – Winery Rep: Adam Mariani
- WINE 7: Pearl-Morissette Chardonnay Cuvée Dix-Neuvième 2014 – Winemaker: Francois Morissette
- WINE 8: Torres Milmanda Chardonnay 2014 – Winery Representative Miguel Torres
- WINE 9: Ravine 2014 Reserve Chardonnay – Winemaker: Martin Werner
- WINE 10: Chamisal Vineyards Chamise Chardonnay 2014 – Winemaker: Fin du Fresne
I will post my detailed tasting notes for these wines in a separate article, to keep this article to a reasonable length. The wines that I did enjoy the most were 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10, which is quite interesting as none are Canadian. I must note that I rated the Canadian wines as , while the other wines rated as – . 4 stars represents a good quality wine in my rating scale. Cheers.