Wine Down Eugene April 2-8
Spring has arrived in the Willamette Valley. Along with the usual rain, blue sky one day, grey sky the next, enhanced by massive diurnal swings in temperature from day to night – everything is pretty normal around here this time of year. Except one thing: I usually fill my glass with Pinot Noir up until the day I dust off my flip flops, but this spring, I just can’t seem to keep my hands off of Oregon’s Chardonnays.
Those who know me well, know I have always been a fan and advocate of the Willamette Valley’s Chardonnays. My devotion and appreciation for the Chardonnays produced in the Willamette Valley has a lot to do with the region’s cooler climate. Wine grapes grown in cooler climates produce less sugar; therefore, the grapes retain a greater natural acidity than wine grapes grown in warmer climates. Natural acidity in wine creates crisp and refreshing characteristics that I simply love, and Chardonnays that have that natural acidity tend to be very food friendly – making them a staple at the lunch or dinner table. No matter how food-friendly they are, however, I often find myself sneaking in a few moments of spring’s occasional sunshine and warmth while simply sipping a chilled glass of Chardonnay all on its own.
I recently participated in an on-line virtual tasting of three absolutely outstanding Oregon Chardonnays produced by one of my favorite Oregon winemakers, Kim Kramer (of Kramer Vineyards), located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley. With three Dijon clone Chardonnays, each produced from grapes grown on the estate vineyard, we tasted Kramer Vineyards 2009 Cellar Door Club Reserve, 2011 Chardonnay Estate and 2012 Chardonnay Estate.
Each of the three Chardonnays were unique thumbprints of the weather patterns of their harvested years – showcasing excellent varietal characteristics special to their vintage, terroir and Kim’s impressive winemaking style. In all three vintages, Kim used basically the same winemaking techniques (with some variation in new, older and neutral French oak selection): harvested by hand and whole cluster pressed in October, primary fermentation in stainless barrels, aged on the lees with bi-monthly stirring until spring racking, heavier lees discarded and returned to barrels to age (and to undergo malolactic fermentation) until bottling in the fall.
All three were incredibly different, yet similar in quality and deliciousness.
Kramer Vineyards 2009 Cellar Door Club Reserve ($20) offered rich and beautiful aromas of pears, apples, pineapple. On the palate, that richness was matched with a lovely, velvety texture that finished with the perfect amount of acidity to round out the rich fruit flavors to ideal precision. The Willamette Valley had almost record long hang time in 2009, and the fruit was riper than usual because of a heat spike in late September. Overall, most vintners considered it a warmer than average season. Brix at harvest for the Cellar Door Club Reserve was 22.5, alcohol is 13.5% and the TA (total acidity) is 6.3 g/l (grams per liter)
Kramer Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay Estate ($18) displayed alluring tropical aromas and flavors of Key limes, mangoes, orange blossom and pineapple topped off with hints of mouthwatering white pepper. Super refreshing and crisp on the palate, I loved the solid acidic backbone that rounded out all of the components in excellent harmony. The weather in the Willamette Valley in 2011 was a huge challenge for vintners. Spring came late and summer never really warmed up. According to the 2011 Oregon Vineyard Report, “sugar levels developed slowly, but heavy pruning and favorable fall weather led to a quality crop. Many growers harvested later than ever before, risking late-season disease and animal exposure…the consensus was that 2011 will be a memorable vintage.” Brix at harvest was 19.3, alcohol is 12.5% and the TA is 8.0 g/l.
Kramer Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay Estate ($20) was like tropical paradise in a bottle, I had visions of sandy beaches and swaying palms. Star fruit, pear, coconut, pineapple, grapefruit, limes and peaches all take over the senses, but aren’t overpowering – giving it elegance and delicateness. Seamless, soothing waves of fruit balanced by awakening (but not jolting) acidity gave it a really smooth, fluid and tranquil quality that I absolutely loved. I just wanted to be on a beach somewhere. Some called the 2012 growing season in the Willamette Valley “epic,” and many of the most notable quotes from vintners around the Willamette Valley were compiled for a piece I wrote on my website, WineJulia.com: 2012 Harvest Quotes – Willamette Valley. Brix at harvest were 21.9, alcohol is 13.2% and TA is 6.7 g/l.
It’s a fact, I’m attracted to acid driven wines, and the Willamette Valley’s cooler climate and unique terroir (depending on the AVA) acidity is showcased, along with many other characteristics with each growing season. And because our weather patterns vary greatly year in, year out, I look forward to every vintage with anticipation – excited for a whole new experience.