Chardonnay is the world’s most popular and important grape for producing white wine, as well as Champagne, sparkling wine and dessert wine. Today, there are 34 different clones of Chardonnay. But where did Chardonnay come from? Recent DNA research conducted at UC Davis, California concluded Chardonnay is the result of a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Experts are not sure when the crossbreeding took place. It probably happened centuries ago. It is very likely that the Romans planted Gouais Blanc on French soils in areas where Pinot Noir was planted as well. From that point on, nature took its course.
Chardonnay is light green in color and gracefully adapts to a divergent array of terroir. While France is the grape’s spiritual home, especially in the Burgundy appellations, it also produces high quality wine in America, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Italy and numerous other countries. In America, it is grown in numerous states from coast to coast. Its greatest success is in northern California in the Sonoma Coast appellations followed by the Central Coastal regions. In Sonoma, Marcassin and Aubert are currently the two benchmark producers of the variety. Several other winemakers are producing Chardonnay that are almost at the same level of quality. In Burgundy, there are too many great producers to list. The best White Burgundy comes from the Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne appellations.
While Chardonnay can produce quality fruit in a variety of soils and climates, the grapes best expression comes from soils with high concentrations of chalk, clay and limestone. All three of those soil types dominate the best
terroir of Burgundy.
Chardonnay is an easy fruit to cultivate. It adapts and ripens in a myriad of different terroirs. One of the reasons the grape gained mass popularity is its ease in reflecting the area where it is grown. Choices made by grower and winemaker easily exert their influence as well, which allows for a wide variety of stylistic differences with the varietal. These choices range from when to pick, the level of sugar in the fruit, the length of time and temperature used during fermentation, malolactic fermentation and how much oak was used, (if any) to age the wine. These are only a few of the choices a winemaker needs to make.
In 2013, Clos Dubreuil became the first chateau to produce a 100% Chardonnay wine in Bordeaux. The wine is being sold as a Vin de France, because the grape is not allowed to be planted in Bordeaux by AOC law.
This wide range of choices allows for countless styles of wine produced from Chardonnay ranging from flavors of green apples, pears, smoke, citrus, rocky and mineral driven, steely or tropical honeyed fruit in nature.