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The (Still) Dismal State of California Chardonnay


It is the best of times, and it is the worst of times.

In 2013, California celebrated its largest grape harvest in history, with just shy of 4.7 million tonnes crushed according to official government statistics. Chardonnay, still reigning supreme as the single most popular grape variety grown in the state, made up a full 16.1% of that total, representing a volume of wine roughly equivalent to the total yearly production of Hungary. This is no doubt the consequence of the wine's popularity at tables throughout the nation. The single best-selling wine in restaurants around the country has for many years been Kendall Jackson's Vintners Reserve Chardonnay.

These sales numbers prove that we journalists write about the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) trend far more than ordinary drinkers utter the phrase, but I still regularly encounter ordinary wine drinkers who have turned away from the deadly combination of ubiquity and atrociousness that has long characterised California Chardonnay.

In the 20 years since those three letters were affixed to a segment of consumer sentiment, countless writers, myself included, have lobbied on behalf of Chardonnay's virtues in the right hands. Winemakers have also done their part, crafting unoaked versions of the grape that, for a brief period of time, piqued interest before becoming another failed experiment to rescue the grape's reputation in California.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Comments (3)

BPM wrote:
08.19.14 at 2:23 PM

Why post an article only to post one paragraph and then send me to a link where I have to subscribe to a website in order to read the rest of it?

I thought your site had original content? You seem to be the Huffington Post of wine writing

Alder wrote:
08.19.14 at 10:28 PM

You’re obviously new around here. Once per month I write an article for Jancis Robinson, and highlight it on my site. 1/20th of my content or something like that.

David Price wrote:
08.25.14 at 8:39 AM

This seems like tired old rhetoric. Sales of Chardonnay in 2012 in the U.S. grew faster than the overall category of growth by a full percentage point and we know where the Chardonnay comes from. The variety of styles has never been greater, especially now with many winemakers producing unoaked and higher acid styles. Looking at the recent published tasting notes for Chardonnay certainly leads me to believe that variety of styles is one of the factors that keeps Chardonnay sales growing at a faster rate than other varieties.

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