Rules are rules: a California Chardonnay I actually like

I’m a loser. As Franco often points out, the rules are the rules and I have to ‘fess up, come clean, and admit that I lost a bet with the man above, Mr. Elton Slone (who has to be the smoothest-talking, slickest hand-shaking, baby-kissing salesman I have ever met — watch out if this dude ever decides to go into politics). I bet this man that there wasn’t a California Chardonnay that he could get me to drink (If loving Chardonnay is wrong, then I don’t want to be right, says Tracie B, btw).

Yesterday, he poured me his 2007 Robert Craig Chardonnay, sourced from the elite Durell vineyard in Sonoma (of Kistler fame). So many Californian winemakers say that they are “tired of oaky, buttery California Chardonnay” and that they make “a mineral-driven, no malolactic fermentation, food-friendly Chardonnay,” but so few deliver. Well, these guys do. Unfortunately, this stuff ain’t cheap and not a lot of it is made.

Is there terroir in California? I’m still not convinced. But as Alfonso and I bantered back and forth the other day after he returned from a Lodi, California wine festival, the conundrum occurred to me: is the absence of terroir itself an expression of terroir?

Man, I’m tired. I’ve been on the road all week and I won’t see Tracie B until tomorrow. I gotta say it’s not easy being a wine cowboy, traveling and hawking wine for a living (I’ve been in Dallas all week). But life is good and every once in a while, after you’ve visited 8 accounts in one day (starting at the un-g-dly hour of 8 in the morn’!), and you finally get to sit down for dinner and enjoy a glass of wine with your fellow travelers (around 9), a song on the juke box reminds you that even though you miss her so much it hurts, you’ll get to see her the day after tomorrow…

12 thoughts on “Rules are rules: a California Chardonnay I actually like

  1. Sonoma gets my vote for the existence of CA terroir. Had the ’07 Flowers Chardonnay last night. Pretty awesome wine. Lees contact gives it some of that Joly-esque goodness.


  2. Jeremy:

    I’d bet you’ like a few Chardonnays from the Santa Lucia Highlands as well. Great structure thanks to high acidity and great aromatics thanks to long growing seasons. The Double L from Morgan is a great Chardonnay!

  3. Dirty, gotta say (and did), it was damn good…

    Franco, thanks for stopping by… One of the interesting things about my new job is how it’s bringing me into contact with different wines and different personalities in the wine business… the downside is having to travel and being away from Austin and Tracie B!

    Jon, Sonoma and Carneros definitely have emerged, in my book, as the place where the good wines are made… I’d love to try that Flowers when I’m out in SD next…

    Tom, I know Eric likes Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia as well. I think in the end (@ Jon and Tom), the key is winemakers who grow and source the grapes from sites where it makes sense to grow those varieties… as opposed to Baja California Nebbiolo or Tuscan Pinot Grigio!

    Tracie B, I picked up the canned pomodorini you asked for at Jimmy’s… those penne better be rigate! ;-)

  4. I think terroir unquestionably exists in CA. It’s just that wine making all too often obscures it. And far too many producers plant what their market dictates rather than what their soil dictates. Makes it tough for terroir to speak….

    PS: Get your hands on a bottle of Stony Hill Vineyard’s Napa Valley Chardonnay. Of the current releases, I’m guessing 2005 would be up your alley.

  5. Winemaking in Italy (and France) can obscure their terroir as easily as anywhere. People who think only the Old World possess terroir remind me of the woman who is having an affair with a married man. As the years pass and she ages, she starts to feel more threatened by the younger women that pass by.

    There are other places with expression that might not be as evident by a horse with blinders on. Just because one cannot see it, doesn’t make it invisible or non-existent. And just because it doesn’t fit into some neat little package of ones own making won’t force it to resonate with a person who has a totally different perspective, such as native Californians, who get California territoriality.

    So many folks look to validate their own tastes and preferences in the wines they choose by shielding it behind the protective term of terroir. It’s gotten tedious and doctrinaire. You all can sit in front of your beloved screens.

    I’m outa here, gotta catch a few more waves while the surf is good and the sun is bright.

  6. David, thanks for the recommendation… I will check it out… the last few months of working with Californian wine have brought me into contact with folks that combine passion and intelligence in their work… not just marketing sense and Protestant positivism…

    Alfonso, I agree that the term terroir has been co-opted on both sides of the aisle… I’m most fascinated by the human factor of terroir (whether humankind’s technology or Confuron jumping naked into a barrel to punch down its cap). Most of all, I am convinced that terroir is everywhere: on a purely empirical level this has to be true… After all, in the words of Geddy Lee:

    If you choose not to decide
    You still have made a choice

  7. Where can I get a list of California Chardonnay’s that are processed with malolactics?
    I presently drink a inexpensive Chardonnay, St. Francis from Sonoma County. Seems much smoother that the others.

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