Chardonnay has a long extensive history in Livermore Valley. In 1912 Ernest Wente persuaded his father C.H. Wente to import Chardonnay cuttings from France to plant in Livermore Valley. Over the next 30-40 years Wente established the Wente Clone of Chardonnay and now nearly 80% of California’s Chardonnay vines trace their genetic roots to the Livermore Valley Wente clone and Chardonnay is the top selling white wine varietal in the USA.
So what is Chardonnay like now here in the home of Chardonnay in the USA? On July 25, as part of the Taste Our Terroir events, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association hosted The Chardonnay Collective at the Darcie Kent Winery in Livermore. Four winemakers from small wineries in the area formed a panel group to discuss the Terroir for Chardonnay in Livermore. The winemakers included:
- Dane Stark, winemaker/owner for Page Mill Winery
- Collin Cranor, winemaker for Nottingham Cellars
- Steve Burman, winemaker for 3 Steves Winery
- Julian Halasz, winemaker for Darcie Kent Vineyards
Each of these winemakers sources their Chardonnay grapes from different vineyards in Livermore Valley, reflecting the unique Terroir of that vineyard but also showing a constant factor of Livermore Valley quality Chardonnay. Dane Stark sources his grapes from Chandler Vineyard on the west end of Livermore in the area around Kalthoff Common. This particular vineyard warms slowly during the growing season, slowly producing the sugars leading to harvest. Dane states, “The Chardonnay from this vineyard possesses a unique focus of character within the appellation. While being in a warmer climate, the west end is separated by the Bay influence by a double, low lying ridge line and warms the most slowly during the growing season. This vineyard shows great potential for producing well structured, complex Chardonnays.”
Fraser-Howard Vineyard is a small 1.2 acre vineyard with Wente Clone 4 vines that is consistently the first Chardonnay vineyard to get ripe. It is located in the heart of Livermore Valley along Tesla Road. Collin Cranor of Nottingham Cellars utilizes the grapes from Fraser-Howard Vineyard to their Livermore Valley Chardonnay. As stated by Collin, “The goal is to find the right vineyard and then honing in on their specific attributes.” This Chardonnay is noted for its round firm body with undertones of baked apple and tropical fruit, plus a nice acidity and long finish.
Steve Burman, one of the three Steves who formed 3 Steves Winery is a fan and user of grapes from Del Arroyo Vineyard, a large 150 acre vineyard that happens to be near the 3 Steves Winery on Greenville Road. Five acres of this vineyard are planted with the Wente Clone Chardonnay. He let the audience sample two versions of this wine, one of which was filtered and fined and one that was not. It was interesting to note that the audience was split fairly equally between which they liked. Some appreciated the raw flavors and aromas of the unfiltered wine while others enjoyed the wine that reflected more manipulation by the winemaker.
DeMayo Vineyard on the hills above Greenville Road is a 14 acre vineyard of Chardonnay with two blocks used by Darcie Kent Vineyards, the De Mayo block and the Hoffman block. It has warm days and a nightly cooling breeze with seasonal cooling fog. This wine has nice tropical aromas and flavors and a full mouthfeel leading to a long mineral finish. Winemaker Julian Halasz gave the audience a chance to taste Chardonnay that had different exposures to oak including one with Stainless Steel and some neutral oak, one with American oak and one with French oak.
The audience at the Chardonnay Collective was impressed with the Chardonnay from Livermore and has seen a dramatic improvement over the years from the many wineries in the appellation.