2013 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay: Part of the New Wave in Oregon
Over the last 50 years of Oregon’s modern winegrowing history, Chardonnay has languished behind Pinot Noir
and Pinot Gris, Oregon’s two signature varietals. Pinot Gris had not found notoriety in wine regions other than
Alsace, France, seemed perfectly suitable to Oregon’s climate, and was a heritage grape, having been brought
to the Willamette Valley by David Lett and established in the Dundee Hills in 1966.
The early 1970s plantings of Chardonnay in California were primarily Wente clone (FPS 04 and FPS 05, also
known as clone 108) and this became the most widely planted Chardonnay clone. Oregon’s earliest
Chardonnay plantings were established by David Lett using cuttings from the Napa Valley that had been
planted by Jerry Draper at Draper Ranch. These plantings date to 1943 and were originally sourced from Louis
Martini’s Stanley Ranch in Carneros, planted with a diversity of European vines in the mid-1930s. Many of the
other early Oregon winegrowing pioneers who came from California also established heritage clones of
Chardonnay in early Oregon plantings.
The Dijon clones of Chardonnay were brought to North America by the Oregonians who had found that
California’s heritage clones, in particular the Wente clone, performed poorly in Oregon, often proving to be an
unacceptable match to Oregon’s climate. Although the heritage Chardonnay clones frequently failed to ripen
and produced wines that were thin, acidic, and lacking in character, this wasn’t universally true, as Wente clone
Chardonnay performed well for example at Bethel Heights in the Eola-Amity Hills.
It wasn’t just the clones that were at fault. The early Oregon vintners were inexperienced with the variety and
many wines showed too much of the winemaker’s imprint and far too much oak overlay. In addition, the
Chardonnay vines were often planted in the wrong sites and the search for proper terroir for Chardonnay
continues in Oregon to this day. Chardonnay should be successful in Oregon as the Willamette Valley has a
similar climate to that of Burgundy.
In the mid-1980s, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard and Ron Cameron at Oregon State University
worked together to establish relations with Professor Raymond Bernard of ONIVINS in Dijon, France, and Alex
Schaeffer of INRA in Colmar, France. On a prior visit to Burgundy, Adelsheim realized that the Chardonnay
grapes there were harvested at the same time as the Pinot Noir, or even earlier, while Oregon’s Chardonnay
grapes were being harvested later than Pinot Noir. This was the impetus for Adelsheim to coax Bernard into
sending Oregon some of the Burgundians’ best Chardonnay clones.
The Oregon State University program imported eight French Chardonnay clones selected by Bernard from
Burgundian vineyards. By 1987, some of the French Chardonnay clones (now known as Dijon clones because
of the return address on the shipping package) were made available for the public collection at FPS and
included (French clone numbers) 76, 77, 78, 96, 352, and 277 (352 was from l’Espiguette and others were
from Dijon). The complicated history of Chardonnay and the selections at FPS is told in the FPS Grape
Program Newsletter from 2007: www.iv.ucdavis/files/24489.pdf.
The French Dijon clones were widely introduced into Oregon in the early 1990s. The planting of Dijon clones 76 and 96 in Block 8-1990 at Knudsen Vineyards is the oldest planting of these clones in Oregon and probably the oldest planting of these clones in the US.
The Dijon clones performed well,
maturing before the bad weather set in at the end of Oregon’s harvest, and producing Chardonnays with
excellent structure and balanced acidity. Clone 96 became the most frequently propagated and clone 77 a
popular clone of the musqué type.
According to statistics compiled by the Department of Agriculture & Research Economics, Oregon State
University and the National Agriculture Statistics Service, Oregon had 272 acres of Chardonnay planted in
1981. By 1987, acreage had more than tripled (1,006 acres), but by 2005 the acreage had fallen to 842, the
fewest since the 1986 level of 873 acres, due in part to the popularity of Pinot Gris. In 2012, the total had
increased to 1,160 acres, about the same as 1989, but Pinot Gris plantings were still triple that of Chardonnay
In the last 8 years, Oregon has experienced a dramatic shift in quality of Chardonnay. Blessed with vibrant
natural acidity and fruit flavors of citrus, white stone fruits and apple with less of the tropical fruit flavors found
in many California Chardonnays, Oregon Chardonnay is finding its niche. The popularity among vintners was
reflected recently in the attendance at the 2015 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium which attracted over 275
people to the technical session and discussion
Knudsen Vineyards was established in 1971 and is one of the oldest vineyards in the Dundee Hills, and for
many years was the largest. 130 acres are planted to Pinot Noir (73%), Chardonnay (24%) and Pinot Meunier
(3%). Knudsen Vineyards is releasing a 2013 Chardonnay, the first from Knudsen Vineyards in over 40 years
and representative of the new wave of Oregon Chardonnay. Currently available only to mailing list members,
the Chardonnay is produced from vines planted in 1993 to Dijon clone 76. The family is releasing this wine to
honor Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen, the founders of Knudsen Vineyards. Knudsen Vineyards released its
inaugural Pinot Noir last year and the 100 cases sold out in six weeks.
The 2013 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay was released March 18. Visit www.knudsenvineyards.com to
acquire this or future releases. The exclusive mailing list member offering is closed, but wine will be available
for purchase on the website starting Monday, April 20. The 2014 vintage will offer considerably more production with 750 cases of Pinot Noir and 400 cases of Chardonnay.
2013 Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.5% alc., pH 3.39, TA 0.60, 125 cases, $45. Dijon 76 and 96 clones. 100%
malolactic fermentation. Barrel fermented 6 months in primarily
older French oak barrels with 35% new and 6 months in bottle.
Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Elevating
aromas of fresh citrus and apple tart. Delicious array of layered
flavors, including lemon, pear, apple, baking spice, honey and
caramel. Impressive depth of flavor in a clean and invigorating style,
offering a lemon-drop-fueled finish alive with flinty acidity. An exceptional
wine that will impress even diehard white Burgundy devotees.