Our never-ending wine education sent us back to the classroom last week to learn about Chardonnay. The event: the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Conference. The seminar: Extreme Winemaking 101. Winemakers from Niagara, BC, the Sonoma Coast, Australia, Burgundy, Argentina gathered to talk about the challenges of producing Chardonnay in often difficult conditions.
“We play Chardonnay the way a musician plays a Stradivarius to express the terroir,” said Jean Lupatelli of Decelle-Villa in Burgundy. But that symphony is often complicated.
“You’ve got to be cruel to be kind,” said Australian-born Craig McDonald who leads the wine-making team at Hillebrand Winery. He said over the past nine years there has been only one season with landmark conditions.
Still, there’s a reason Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. And we got the chance to taste six of them. Many of these wines are not even available on the market yet. While I have never been a card carrying member of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club, I must admit it is not my go-to varietal. But I believe in keeping an open mind, and what an opportunity for a pair of novices like us to be exposed to the vast differences based on terroir and technique. Both our favorites was the 2010 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay , from the Sonoma Coast. Its flawless finish is the product of a big fault, the San Andreas fault line that created incredible soil diversity.
The Chardonnay sampling didn’t stop there. After class there was a luncheon where they set three bottles on each table, all different. Once you finished sampling yours, you could bottle-switch with other tables. Chardonnays from Jura, Burgundy, Prince Edward County, Oregon and many other regions were represented. I am happy to say my luncheon favourite was local. Vineland Estates Reserve 2009 was terrific. Citrusy and bright, crisp and well-balanced, it is a perfect match for my summer playlist. It’s only available online and on site – so that means there’s another road trip in the near future!
The conference officially kicked off in the evening with the spectacular “Explore Your Senses Dinner” hosted at Jackson Triggs. We met some of the 56 winemakers at various sampling stations and the evening’s menu consisted of Chardonnay-inspired dishes like Miso Glazed Pork Belly with Pineapple, Cilantro and Cucumber, Oysters with Peach Chardonnay Mignonette and other delicious dishes. The end to a perfect evening came when Canadian rockers, The Arkells took the stage at the outdoor amphitheatre. Going back to class has never been sweeter.