Between the Vines is a biweekly column on wine and winemaking in the Livermore Valley region. This column was contributed by members of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.
Each month, Livermore Valley wine country highlights a grape varietal grown in our region. May's featured varietal is chardonnay, a green-skinned varietal used to produce white wines all over the globe.
The Wentes, of Livermore Valley, are known as California's first family of chardonnay. In 1912, Ernest Wente persuaded his father and winery founder Carl Wente to import cuttings from the University of Montpelier in France. Ernest also obtained budwood from the Gier Vineyard in Pleasanton and planted the two sources in his family's Livermore Valley vineyard. Over the next 30 to 40 years, he selected vines that showed favorable traits and replanted them to establish the Wente clone of chardonnay. Today, nearly 100,000 acres are planted with chardonnay, and it is the top-selling varietal in the country. A majority of the chardonnay planted in California is derived from the Wente clone.
"Chardonnay tends to be dry and benefits from aging more than any other American white wine," says fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente. "Styles range from the crisp mineral chablis style to New World styles with oak influence. Here at Wente Vineyards, we continue the family legacy of chardonnay by making four different styles."
"When I think of chardonnay, I think of California," says Karen Bartlett-Bassett, manager of Charles R Vineyards. "The full body and depth of character bring thoughts of our Livermore Valley sunshine, golden California hills, the variety of culture and the way we embrace life."
More chardonnay is harvested in Livermore Valley than any other varietal -- nearly twice as much as its closest rival, cabernet.
"Its abundance is testament to its popularity. For many, white wine is chardonnay!" says John Kinney, of Occasio Winery, who chose to make the varietal for its popularity and historical importance to Livermore Valley.
Steven Kent Mirassou, of The Steven Kent Winery, also appreciates the historical connection and adds, "I make chardonnay because I love the flavors, textures and sense of completeness that the wine has. Fans of chardonnay should look for a balance of texture elements that are appropriate for the appellation."
"We tell our customers to look for the crisp, green-apple flavors in our chardonnay, but also for the contrasting flavors of cream and butter," says Rochelle Todd, tasting room manager at Concannon Vineyard. "The flavors don't stand in the way of one another but instead complement and enhance each other."
"One of my most favorite pairings with chardonnay is mushrooms and truffle oil," says winemaker Meredith Miles, of Fenestra. "Especially when a chardonnay has a fuller mouth feel, the umami character of mushrooms and truffles really complements and boosts that earthy flavor."
The husband of winemaker Rhonda Wood, of Wood Family Vineyards, enjoys pistachios every evening with a glass of chardonnay. "We also like chardonnay with Parmesan cheese, pesto chicken and a variety of seafood dishes," says Rhonda.
"Retzlaff chardonnay is versatile enough to be served with shellfish in a rich creamy sauce or a breezy fresh salad with avocado, melon and nuts," suggests General Manager Salome Taylor. "Most chardonnays lend themselves to a variety of epicurean delights."
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