What Makes Oregon’s Chardonnay So Amazing?
While Oregon and the Willamette Valley are predominantly known for their Pinot Noir varietals, Oregon has long since been home to Chardonnay as well. Despite modern literature and connoisseurs claiming that there is a resurgence and rebirth of the best in Oregon Chardonnay, the truth is that in small quantities, Oregon Chardonnay has maintained a strong presence in the wine market.
Drawing from Jason Lett’s wisdom (a winemaker extraordinaire at The Eyrie Vineyards), “Oregon Chardonnay was always good when it was grown by people who understood Chardonnay.” In fact, regional history of Oregon Chardonnay is equally revered, alongside Pinot Noir’s longstanding legacy in Oregon.
History of Chardonnay in Oregon
From the outset of Oregon Chardonnay’s presence in Oregon’s world-class wine region, there have been a couple key vintners who are responsible for cultivating the best Chardonnay grapes. David Lett, of Eyrie Vineyards, is particularly praised for his role in planting the initial Chardonnay vines. While he also rooted Oregon’s first plantings of Pinot Noir, Lett understood that Chardonnay, similar to Pinot Noir, flourished in the Willamette Valley’s Region I climate. So Lett planted the first site of Oregon Chardonnay in February 1965.
Lett was soon followed by other regional winemakers who recognized the value in Oregon’s climate as fertile ground for Chardonnay. David Erath and the Stoller Family soon after bought vineyard acreage to boost Oregon’s access to high-quality Chardonnay grapes. Both of these winemakers, Erath and Stoller, continue today producing wine at their famous vineyards where visitors can find the best of Oregon Chardonnay.
Other famous vineyards and vintners include Bill Fuller at Tualatin Estate Vineyards (he released his first Chardonnay mid 1970s), along with The Eyrie Vineyards, Bethel Heights, and Rex Hill.
Oregon’s Best Grape: Ever-Evolving Chardonnay
In recent decades, Oregon Chardonnay has evolved with the prevalence of cloning practices. Lett explains the Chardonnay cloning process as follows: “Go into vineyard, cut a piece of stick, put the stick halfway in the ground. The buds in the ground grow roots; the ones above the ground grow leaves. Boom, you have a plant that is genetically identical to the plant that you got the stick from. And that is a clone.”
Clones have changed Oregon’s Chardonnay scene in a dramatic way. But it’s important to understand that while there may be sommelier controversy surrounding cloning practices and Oregon Chardonnay, Oregon remains home to some of the best Chardonnay along the west coast.
Best in Show: Guide to the Best in Oregon Chardonnay
Oregon Chardonnay is slowly emerging with a signature flair. Cloned or not, the wines tend to have less “makeup,” with limited new oak. Brian Marcy, the head winemaker at Big Farm Table, shares that, “Oregon Chardonnay often possesses power and finesse that is unique to Oregon, regarded highly and appreciated by those who find it fits their sensibilities.”
Wine Spectator, too, has weighed in with an appreciation for Oregon Chardonnay wines. Read on below to learn a few Oregon Chardonnays that are definitely worth trying.
Argyle’s 2007 Chardonnay Willamette Valley Nuthouse scored a 92 on Wine Spectator’s list this year. At a comfortable $35 price point, this bottle is a perfect introduction to the best of Oregon Chardonnay – without breaking the bank.
Domaine Serene reigns as an innovator and an established vineyard that produces some of the finest Chardonnay in Oregon. This year, Wine Spectator praised a series of harvests and blends from Domaine Serene, including:
- the 2013 Chardonnay Dundee Hills Clos de Lune Vineyard,
- the 2012 Chardonnay Dundee Hills Etoile Vineyard,
- the 2013 Chardonnay Dundee Hills Evenstad Reserve, and
- the 2012 Chardonnay Dundee Hills Récolte Grand Cru.
While most Domaine Serene Chardonnay bottles cost upwards of $70, the flavor profiles are supreme.
Big Table Farm
Big Table Farm, while a newer vineyard, is producing quality wine. With a 95-point 2012 Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2012, Big Table Farm ranks high on many lists of the best Chardonnays in Oregon. If you love a balance of pear, pineapple, and floral flavors, this is the Chardonnay for you.
Your Go-To Guide for Oregon Chardonnay
With a little history, vineyard knowledge, and choice recommendations, you are well on your way to sampling the best Chardonnay that Oregon has to offer. Stop by Mt. Tabor Fine Wines for additional insight and recommendations, we’re happy to help!