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June 8, 2013

Howard Hewitt: The case for another great Chardonnay region

Does the wine world need another great Chardonnay region? California has the great big buttery, woodsy Chards while Chablis brings the mineral and acid. There is virtually every style in between from regions across the globe.

Oregon has made its name with Pinot Noir and the white Pinot Gris. Now there are those who think Chardonnay is the next big thing in northwest wine.

"I think Oregon is really well suited for Chardonnay," said Bill Sweat, Winderlea Winery. "Chardonnay does better in cooler climates. You get that great acidity and brightness, floral notes, the kind of flavors White Burgundy lovers go after."

Ironically, when the wine drinkers learned Oregon's Pinot Noir rivaled some of the best in the world some grape growers actually pulled Chardonnay to plant more Pinot. Chardonnay acreage dropped 25 percent between 1995 and 2001 while Pinot Noir and Gris nearly doubled.

The original Oregon Chardonnay problem was the wine just wasn't very good. It was all a matter of getting the right vines.

"When I first started in Chardonnay we only hand one clone," said Lynn Penner-Ash, who has her own winery and consults with others in winemaking. "Now we're seeing transition to the Dijon clone with better placement and better vineyard management. The Chardonnays coming out of Oregon now are better and better - much better than early years."

Talking Chardonnay with Oregon producers is all about getting the right vines and a lesson in terroir. Most producers agreed the move away from the original vines to the Dijon vines made a world of difference.

"We originally started with some Chardonnay in the vineyard that didn't do very well," said Sweat. "But for the last 15 years we've been able to bring in some selections fro France and they're doing beautifully.

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