Oregon Chardonnay Gaining Prominence
“The many changes taking place right now with Oregon Chardonnay all add up to
huge steps forward for those obsessed with making great Chardonnay.”
The following people offered invaluable information for this article based on their experience with Oregon
Chardonnay as well as their knowledge of the evolution of Oregon Chardonnay over the past fifty years.
Jason Lett (proprietor and winemaker, The Eyrie Vineyards), Brian Marcy (proprietor and winemaker, Big Table
Farm), David Adelsheim (proprietor of Adelsheim Vineyard), John Winthrop Haeger (writer and consultant, and
author of North American Pinot Noir), Erica Landon (former Portland-based sommelier and founding partner of
Walter Scott Wines), and the vintners who participated in and expressed their opinions in the past Oregon
Chardonnay Symposiums and Oregon Chardonnay Celebrations. Valuable resources for the history of
Chardonnay clones include Gerald Asher’s article in Gourmet, May 1990, “Chardonnay: Buds, Twigs and
Clones,” and The FPS Grape Program Newsletter, November 2007, “Chardonnay History and Selections at
Looking Back for Insight into “Bad Then Good Now”
Pinot Noir is unquestionably Oregon’s signature red grape, and Pinot Gris has been Oregon’s most popular
white wine. Today, Pinot Gris acreage still outnumbers Chardonnay plantings by two to one, but Oregon
Chardonnay is quickly carving out its own popularity as vintners gain more traction with this varietal.
Any discussion of the evolution of Oregon Chardonnay must dispel the commonly held myth that Oregon
Chardonnay has never been very good and only in recent years has it achieved enough excellence to be
considered equal in quality to Oregon Pinot Noir. As recently as 2015, dmagazine.com reported, “Chardonnay
grown in the Willamette Valley until recent years has been rather flabby, flat and uninteresting.”
The truth is that some wineries in Oregon have always been successful with Chardonnay, but not all were. The
so-called resurgence of Oregon Chardonnay hasn’t exactly been a modern rebirth, but a confluence of a
number of factors that have improved upon the potential that was always evident, including changes much
more important than Chardonnay clones. To quote winemaker Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, “Oregon
Chardonnay was always good when it was grown by people who understood Chardonnay.”
In the early years of Oregon’s emergence as a world-class wine region, there were a few vintners who took
Chardonnay seriously from the beginning and their wines achieved notable recognition. David Lett is highly
honored for not only the first plantings of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the Willamette Valley, but also the initial
plantings of Chardonnay. David realized that Chardonnay, like Pinot Noir, were well suited to the Region I
climate of the Willamette Valley and after heading north to Oregon from California in late 1964, he found a
suitable site for a nursery just outside of Corvallis in February 1965. The first plantings of Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley and the first Pinot Gris outside of Europe were established on February
While still in California, David had visited the Draper Ranch in St. Helena and toured the vineyards where
longtime vineyard manager Joe Torres showed him certain blocks and vines that were his favorites. This
Chardonnay fruit went primarily to Souverain Cellars on Howell Mountain where winemaker Lee Stewart made
storied Chardonnays. Jerry Draper, Lee Stewart and Fred McCrea (Stony Hill) had all planted vineyards on the
hillsides of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley in the 1940s using cuttings of OId Wente Chardonnay that had
been sourced from Herman Wente at Wente Vineyards in Livermore (the Wente vineyards at the time were
composed of Chardonnay from budwood that a member of the Wente Family - reportedly Ernest - took from the
University of Montpellier vitiicultural nursery and cuttings taken from the Gier Vineyard which had used some of
Charles Wetmore’s plantings at La Cresta Blanca Winery that purportedly were cuttings from Meursault in
Burgundy). Louis Martini, Jr., would later take budwood he called Wente clone from McCrea’s Stony Hill
Vineyard for planting at Stanly Lane Vineyard in Carneros in 1951 or 1952. Dr. Olmo, a faculty member at
University of California at Davis brought disease-free selections from Stanly Lane Vineyard to Foundation Plant
Services (FPS) in 1964. Olmo #66 and Olmo #69 would later become Chardonnay FPS 04 and 05.
The Draper selection of Chardonnay along with UCD selections became the basic vines of The Eyrie
Vineyards. David Lett initially sold Chardonnay cuttings to other Oregon vintners, but discontinued this practice
after 1974. He only made two Chardonnays entirely from clone 108 (see below), in 1978 and 1980. When a
retrospective tasting of pristine bottles of Lett’s The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnays was held July 23, 2009, the
quality and age ability of the older wines was impressive. Before the tasting, winemaker Jason Lett had gone
through the entire library of Eyrie Chardonnay and eliminated those bottles that had cork taint and oxidation,
both of which were more common then met with today. This would suggest that some of the early disappointing
reports of Oregon Chardonnay could be blamed on cork issues.
As an example of the high quality of The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay of the 1980s, the 1985 The Eyrie
Vineyards Chardonnay tied for third place with 1985 Talot-Beaut Corton-Charlemagne in a tasting of
Chardonnays at the International Wine Center in New York.
Other Oregon vintners sought out Chardonnay selections from California in the early 1970s including William
(Bill) Fuller at Tualatin Estate Vineyards in Forest Grove who released his first Chardonnay in the mid 1970s.
His 1981 Chardonnay won Double Gold and Best of Show trophies in a prestigious international wine
competition and his Chardonnays, along with those from The Eyrie Vineyards, were considered the best in
Oregon by Robert Parker, Jr., during the 1980s. Wente selections planted at Bethel Heights, Rex Hill and other
wineries did get ripe and performed beautifully.
Oregon vintners of the 1970s and 1980s planted Old Wente selections, heat-treated Wente clones 04 and O5
that were registered at FPS in 1973, and heat-treated clone 108 which preceded the release of Wente clones
04 and 05. Clone 108, also known as the “Davis” or “Wente” clone was first released in 1967 by the University
of California at Davis (UCD). It was considered ideal for California vineyards because of high yields, lower
acidity and lacked the undesirable “hens and chicks” tendency of the Old Wente selection. UCD 108 was a
combination of 04 and 05, consisting of different mother vines that underwent heat treatment at the same time
(Chardonnay was one of the first varieties that was subjected to thermotherapy at UCD). It’s popularity led to
accolades such as published in April 1994 in Wines & Spirits, “The dependable high-yield clone #108
accomplished the goal of making Chardonnay commercially viable in California.” The widespread success in
California led to its spread to other states including Oregon, but the Oregon wines were often said to be simple
The idea that California heritage Chardonnay clones were not appropriate for Oregon developed and persisted.
In North West Wine Update May/June 1996, it was noted, “The cooler-climate Dijon clones are more suitable to
this region than the popular warm climate oriented clone 108, and combined with terroir oriented winemaking,
result in truly exceptional wines as more of a rule and less of an exception. John Winthrop Haeger recalls in
Oregon’s pre-Dijon era, while doing a commissioned magazine article on Oregon Chardonnay, that Oregon
vintners repeatedly told him that the Wente selections were to be blamed for the poor quality of early examples
of Oregon Chardonnay. Haeger suspected that there was too much consensus with too many people talking to
each other and felt like this was too easy an explanation for some disappointing Oregon Chardonnays.
However, vintners like David Adelsheim and Harry Peterson-Nedry were strong critics of the California heritage
Chardonnay clones. In 2008, Adelsheim noted in Wines & Vines, “Chardonnay clonal selections from California
are not working right in the cooler Oregon Climate.”
Clone 108 in particular was met with disappointment in Oregon due to many factors beyond its clonal identity.
Although Wente Chardonnay clones are highly adaptable and particularly suited to Winkler Region I climate
found in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, clone 108 reportedly ripened too late, and this drawback combined with its
high yields led to some examples of Oregon Chardonnay that were austere, acidic and lacked interest.
However, this was before the appearance of crop thinning. Gerald Asher pointed out in 1990 that clone 108
could perform if yields were kept to a certain maximum amount such as three or four tons per acre. Another
factor was that clone 108 was heat treated Wente clones 04 and 05 and it is well known that heat treatment
can significantly alter the pre-treatment character of the original clone.
Despite the lack of widespread success of the Wente selections in Oregon in the 1970s and 1980s, there were
many Oregon Chardonnays based on these California Chardonnay selections that excelled. Insight into the
quality of Oregon Chardonnay in the early years can be obtained by viewing old editions of Robert Parker, Jr.’s,
Wine Advocate. In 1985, Parker exclaimed, “Based on the tastings I have just completed, Oregon is about to
catapult into stardom not just for its startling pinot noirs, but also for its chardonnays. The chardonnays are
remarkably similar to their French counterparts, and as my blind tastings proved, often impossible to pick out
as being made in the USA. For chardonnay, Tualatin, Shafer and Eyrie produced stunning wines in both 1982
and 1983, and Peter Adams, Adelsheim, Ponzi, Knudsen Erath, Sokol Blosser and Alpine have all proven they
can do something special with chardonnay given a good vintage.”
Two years later, in 1987, Parker penned an article titled, “Oregon: Current Releases (Time to Take Notice).” He
remarked, “Their (Oregon’s) chardonnays seem to be getting better and better and some of them will out age
anything California can produce.” He listed Oregon’s best Chardonnays in order of overall quality: Tualatin,
Eyrie, Adams, Shafer, Ponzi, Giradet, Veritas, Rex Hill, Adelsheim, Amity, Cameron, Sokol Blosser and Elk
Cove. Parker’s praise was tempered by his comments on oak management, “In Oregon there seems to be a
tendency to obliterate the great fruit they got in 1983 and 1985 with loads of toasty new oak. However, there
are some excellent, very French like, very age worthy chardonnays coming out of Oregon from half a dozen
By 1987, the Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report indicated that Chardonnay had overtaken White Riesling in
bearing acreage with 733 acres, becoming the most widely planted white variety, and second only to Pinot
Noir’s 904 bearing acres. Oregon wineries crushed 1,013 tons of Chardonnay, 25.4% of the total crush, second
only to Pinot Noir at 1,447 tons or 36.4% of the total.
The true history of the events that led to the importation of the so-called French Dijon clones of Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay into Oregon has been misstated in the wine literature, and multiple untruths regarding dates and
contributors have been propagated through the years. I asked David Adelsheim, someone with an excellent
memory who was a central figure in the story of how the Dijon clones arrived in our country, to clarify the
chronology of events. For the purposes of this article, the focus is on the Dijon clones of Chardonnay.
While in Burgundy in 1964, David Lett met Professor Raymond Bernard, a viticulturist and regional director of
the Office National Interprofessional des Vins (ONIVINS) and established a collaborative relationship . The
Oregonians knew about Bernard’s program and had much of his research data. David Adelsheim was an intern
at the Lycée Agricole et Viticule in Beaune for the 1974 harvest. The Lycée had a block with new clones
planted in Puligny, that Adelsheim visited and from which he helped make wines that year. He told me, “The
main thing that dawned on me in 1974 was I realized that the Chardonnay clones in Burgundy ripened with
Pinot Noir, not two weeks later as the UCD clones 4 and 5 did back home in Oregon.”
On the same trip in 1974, Adelsheim went to the Domaine de L’Espiguette (Association Nationale Technique
pour l’Amélioration de la Viticulture) on the Mediterranean near Montpelier. He met with the person in charge of
their virus cleanup program, Claude Valat, and requested clones of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay Noir be
sent to the fledgling import program at Oregon State University (OSU). Valat sent three clones of Pinot Noir,
two of Chardonnay (77 and 352) and four of Gamay. One clone of each variety failed the indexing tests, but
352 made it into Oregon and has been planted here and there. Adelsheim notes that it makes incredible
Back in Oregon, Adelsheim pushed Ron Cameron, a plant pathologist at OSU, to obtain a grape import permit
from the USDA, since Austin Goheen at FPS did not feel there was a need to import any more Pinot Noir
material to UCD. David Heatherbell, who was from New Zealand, was appointed Professor in the Food
Science Department at OSU, focusing on enology. He came to Corvallis after time in Burgundy in 1983 and set
up a visit with Raymond Bernard. He asked for a range of clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to be evaluated
against those that were already in Oregon. Heatherbell did this because Porter Lombard, another OSU
Professor (in Horticulture) had been communicating with Bernard at the request of Adelsheim and others about
the need for French clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Oregon.
In January 1984, Bernard sent nine clones of Pinot Noir and 4 clones of Chardonnay to Ron Cameron. They
were sent in a package with a return address of “Dijon, France.” When Adelsheim first saw the clones in a
greenhouse in Corvallis, the French clones were all numbered with a “D” in front of them. The name, “Dijon
clones,” has now become a part of the viticulture lexicon. The initially imported Chardonnay clones were 75,
76, 78 and 96.
The second set of Chardonnay clones, 95 and 277 (along with Pinot Noir clones 667 and 777), arrived at the
beginning of 1988 through the OSU import license. Adelsheim had visited Bernard in his office in 1987 and
requested the additional clones. Clone 277 was confused with the two Pinot Noir clones and was lost.
The French clones were sent to FPS in 1987-88 where they underwent shoot tip tissue culture treatment and
released as registered FPS selections between 1997 and 2002 (Adelsheim can’t confirm this but said, “It
Small amounts of the Dijon Chardonnay clones were released in 1990 from the nursery at OSU. The clone 95
lagged behind because it was rushed through quarantine in two years and there had been no propagation
going on. The new Dijon Chardonnay clones were planted in earnest in the 1993 to 1995 seasons. Clones 75
and 78 were never significantly planted.
The importation of the Dijon clones of Chardonnay into Oregon is looked upon by some as a lifesaver for
Oregon Chardonnay. David Adelsheim observed early on that California was more successful than Oregon in
making Chardonnay. He felt that the French clones offered advantages over the California heritage clones in
Oregon. The clones produced naturally lower yields, the clusters were smaller, the grapes had unctuous fruit
intensity (allowing more new oak if desired), the resultant wines demonstrated good fruit quality and crispness,
and most importantly, the clones had early ripening dates.
The Dijon clones that were sent to Foundation Plant Services (FPS) at UCD from OSU in 1987-88 are
considered “generic” since they preceded the establishment of the ENTAV-INRA™ program for official French
clones, and are given a different FPS selection number than the reported French number. The clones
underwent shoot tip tissue culture treatment and were released on the FPS registered list between 1997 and
2002. These treated clones have the same FPS numbering: ENTAV-INRA™ French clones 76 and 96 are
equal to FPS clones 76 and 96. There are 34 Chardonnay clones officially certified by ENTAV-INRA™ with the
most popular being 96, 76, 95, 277 and 548. Clones 77 and 809 are popular French clones of the musqué
type. FPS also now offers FPS 72 (former FPS 2A), a heat-treated version of Old Wente selection.
The Dijon clones of Chardonnay quickly became popular in Oregon because they ripened earlier before
Oregon’s notoriously bad weather encroached on the end of harvest, the clones had more flavor-concentrated
clusters, balanced acidity, and offered vintners a reliable alternative. Sommelier Erica Landon commented,
“While I agree that Dijon clones are not what is fueling this revolution in Oregon Chardonnay, I do not think you
can deny that the introduction of commercially available high quality Chardonnay clones that were better suited
for our (Oregon) climate had an impact on elevating the general quality of Oregon Chardonnay.” Clone 96 has
become the most frequently propagated Dijon Chardonnay clone in Oregon.
It is evident from this table below sent to me by Jason Lett that Oregon Chardonnay vineyard acreage spiked in
the mid 1990s after the introduction of the Dijon clones of Chardonnay. The acreage dipped somewhat after
1998 due to the popularity of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, but has again shown an increase, and as of 2014,
according to the Oregon Vineyard & Winery Census Report, there are 1,353 planted acres of Chardonnay in
Oregon, with the majority located in the Willamette Valley.
The purported failure of Oregon Chardonnay in the past can be attributed to many factors. Early on, many
Chardonnay plantings ended up on lesser sites and the vines were not cropped and otherwise farmed
appropriately. There were only a few vintners who took Chardonnay seriously and committed to it
wholeheartedly as many looked upon it as a commodity wine. Many wines were overlain with too much oak
and over manipulated, a result of an attempt to emulate the popular California style of Chardonnay. Finally, the
popularity of the Dijon clones coincided with renewed commitment by some, but not all wineries. Jason Lett
told me, “Perhaps not everyone who planted these ‘easy new clones’ in the 80s and 90s were ready for the
kind of work it takes to make and market great Chardonnay.”
The Present and Future of Oregon Chardonnay
Currently, the clonal wars have reached a truce among some Oregon vintners, as they realize that specific
clones are not as important as they are made out to be. As Erica Landon said to me, “From our perspective,
the changes in Oregon Chardonnay quality are much bigger than clones, they encompass Chardonnay from
the vineyard to the bottle.” The focus is more on site than clone now which is where it should be. For several
decades, the best sites in the Willamette Valley were planted to Pinot Noir with Chardonnay ending up in the
lesser sites because the economic return was much less. Erica went on to say, “Some believed in Chardonnay
and planted great vineyards early on, but most did not, and most followed trend and money.”
There still is a place for the Wente clones, including clone 108, in Oregon. Noted winemaker and winegrower,
Robert Brittan said at the 2014 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium, “Don’t give up on clone 108 - it can be in
interesting tool.” Winemaker Brian Marcy of Big Table Farm, who crafts some of Oregon’s most engaging
Chardonnays, told me, “I have heard that some people are planting a little bit of UCD 108 now, probably for the
same reason that I like it. However, I think it will continue to only play a minor role.”
Some current Oregon proponents of Wente clone Chardonnay include Jay Christopher of J. Christopher
Wines, Todd Hansen of Longplay, Tyson Crowley of Crowley Wines, Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom Winery, Jim
Maresh of Arterberry Maresh, and Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyard.
Many vintners in Oregon have chosen to work with both older California selections and newer plantings of
Dijon clones. Brian Marcy speaks for many who say, “I am happy to have both because they complement each
other beautifully to make complete wines. The older plantings bring an acidic backbone that blends well with
the unctuousness of the Dijon clones.”
Erica Landon pointed out to me the dramatic changes that are currently going on with Chardonnay plantings in
Oregon. “You are seeing great sites planted entirely to Chardonnay, with thought going into rootstock, clones
and planting techniques. These vineyards are farmed with the utmost care. The viticulturists are learning what
works best for Chardonnay here and pushing the standards to a higher level. We are learning how canopy
management can have a huge impact on Chardonnay quality, how to pinpoint harvest dates that hit the pH and
acid balance that we are hoping for, and not cutting any corners.”
Some of the most exciting new Chardonnay vineyards include multiple clonal selections, a selection messale
approach rather than one or two clones, and include both Dijon clones and heritage selections from California
including Old Wente. Craig Williams of Joseph Phelps fame has planted vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA
including X Novo Vineyard that has fifteen different Chardonnay clones, Josh Bergstrom is planting a new
block of Chardonnay at his Silice Vineyard with over fifteen clonal and rootstock combinations, and Luisa Ponzi
has planted a mixed clonal vineyard. Tai Ran Niew of Niew Vineyards began planting 5.5 acres of
Chardonnay on an 80-acre site in the Chehalem Mountains in the fall of 2015 using a diverse mix of clones. A
former aeronautical engineer raised in Singapore, he is using his science background and several years of
viticulture and wine studies to focus on and produce age worthy Oregon Chardonnay.
There remains a cadre of Oregon vintners totally committed to the Dijon clones of Chardonnay. These growers
belong to the ORegon Chardonnay Alliance (ORCA) that was formed in 2000 with seven original members
including Adelsheim Vineyard, Argyle, Chehalem, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Domaine Serene, Hamacher and
Ponzi. A number of other wineries making Chardonnay from Dijon clones have joined ORCA as well. The goal
of ORCA is to exchange information and promote Chardonnay to the trade and media, with the marketing story
that Oregon Chardonnay was drab until Dijon clones came along to make a difference. The ORCA website
previously offered this sweeping statement, “The early Oregon Chardonnays were generally lackluster, eliciting
little passion and excitement. So inconsistent were the wines that many producers publicly announced their
intention to take out their Chardonnay vines and plant other varieties." ORCA membership requires that the
winery be committed to the Dijon clones of Chardonnay. ORCA’s website, www.oregonchardonnay.org is
currently under construction. The Facebook page is live at www.facebook.com/OregonChardonnay but offers
very little information.
Dramatic changes are also occurring in the wineries, with some winemakers such as Ken Pahlow of Walter
Scott Wines spending as much time, if not more, working with Chardonnay compared to Pinot Noir. He is
bottling several site-specific Chardonnays, trying to learn about how the combination of different soils, aspect,
clones, rootstocks and farming techniques are reflected in the finished wines. Erica Landon has pointed out, “Winemakers
are fine tuning their decisions such as battonage, inoculation, malolactic fermentation, barrel selection,
cellaring and finding out what works best for Oregon and their own style. And, most importantly, they are
sharing knowledge with each other, pushing each other to grow and make better wines, and pushing to find
what Oregon Chardonnay looks like, rather than trying to emulate California or Burgundy.”
Oregon winemakers, led by David Adelsheim and Sam Tannahill, have started an annual Chardonnay
Technical Seminar to further raise the level of quality of Chardonnay in Oregon. The yearly tasting focuses on
topics such as reductive versus oxidative winemaking and native yeast versus inoculated fermentations. The
Oregon Chardonnay Symposium has grown in stature and is now under the auspices of the International Pinot
Noir Celebration, along with a name change in 2015 to the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration. Held each year in
February, this event has attracted upwards of 300 attendees to The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg for the
seminar and tasting.
Oregon vintners at the 2014 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium noted that it will take at least another twenty
years to find the optimum combination of site, clone, rootstock and winemaking techniques to realize Oregon’s
full potential for Chardonnay.
A signature style of Oregon Chardonnay is slowly emerging. The wines tend to have less “makeup,” with new
oak limited to 15% in most examples. The wines are a little riper and richer than examples of Chardonnay from
Burgundy, yet stop short of the ripeness, fruitiness and viscosity of California Chardonnays that are also
frequently more oak imbued. Oregon’s vintage variability also separates the Chardonnays from those of
California with better examples made in cooler years. Brian Marcy told me, “Oregon Chardonnay often
possesses power and finesse that is unique to Oregon, regarded highly and appreciated by those who find it
fits their sensibilities.” Oregon Chardonnay tends to be lower in alcohol, higher in natural acidity, possess
minimal oak and lees influence, offer flavors centered on citrus and green apple, and show inviting balance.
There are other stylistic offerings as well such as Chardonnays fermented solely in stainless steel and more
Oregon does not yet have as many hallowed producers of Chardonnay compared to California, a state that can list
many examples including Stony Hill, Chateau Montelena, Hanzell, Mount Eden, Aubert, Kistler, Peter Michael,
Patz & Hall, Kongsgaard and others. However, The Eyrie Vineyards, Knudsen Vineyards, Domaine Drouhin
Oregon, Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard and Domaine Serene are knocking at the door for recognition
in that same category. California also has growers of Chardonnay such as Larry Hyde, Charlie Heintz, Kent
Ritchie, and Lee Hudson whose names are synonymous with Chardonnay and are iconic figures among
Chardonnay aficionados, and Oregon’s growers have yet to match their notoriety.
Oregon’s turn in the Chardonnay limelight will come in time when consumers understand the successes of the
past and become excited about wines of the present. With more plantings, focus on site and viticulture, young
and enthusiastic vintners showing surging interest, and more wine drinkers becoming surprised with what
Oregon Chardonnay has to offer, the future potential looks exceedingly bright. The opportunity makes
economic sense as well, since Chardonnay remains the best selling varietal in the country, with the highest off premise
sales of any varietal, capturing 20% share of the market by value and volume.
Tasting Current Oregon Chardonnay Releases
I recently tasted 28 current releases of Oregon Chardonnays. The wines showed no to modest oak barrel influence
(caramel, toast, creme brulée), and offered bright and in most cases balanced acidity, silky smooth textures
and no residual sugar that I could detect. The wines were generally more austere from a fruit standpoint and
more subtle in nuance compared to California Chardonnay, with lower alcohols and less fruit ripeness (more
citrus and Granny Smith apple and less often tropical, baked fruit flavors). The wines had variably pursuant
finishes and no significant tannins, and showed admirable balance suggesting age ability. Oregon
Chardonnays are unrivaled food wines. Fans (and there are many, at least in California) of buttery, well-oaked
Chardonnay will be disappointed. Whether the Oregon style of Chardonnay pleases the fickle American palate
remains to be seen.
Most of the wines reviewed here were closed with cork indicating that Oregon takes this wine seriously. There
were a number of very good Chardonnays, and 12 of the 28 wines scored 90 points or better. The
Chardonnays of Walter Scott Wines were particularly impressive and not surprisingly the current vintage releases are sold out. If you are new to Oregon Chardonnay, it is an ideal time to get on board, for the prices are
still moderate, and most of the better examples are half the price of their California counterparts.
2014 Adelsheim Vineyard Caitlin’s Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.5% alc., pH 3.32, 580 cases, $45. A LIVE certified
sustainable wine composed of the finest lots of Chardonnay in the cellar.
Sourced from Stoller Vineyard (63%), Nicholas Vineyard (24%) and
Boulder Bluff Vineyard (13%). Dijon clones. Whole cluster pressed with a
gentle bladder press, barrel fermented and aged in French oak barrels
Light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. A delightful
wine with a vibrant structure and expressive fruit, offering aromas and
flavors of lemon, yellow apple, pineapple and grapefruit augmented with
a gentle touch of oak. Very classy, with inviting balance and some length
on the cleansing finish.
2014 Alloro Estate Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay
13.4% alc., 250 cases, $34.
Released November 2015. 100% Alloro Vineyard. Dijon clones 76 and 96. Gently whole cluster
pressed, barrel fermented with 100% malolactic fermentation and lees stirring. Aged 10 months in
French oak barrels, 20% new.
Moderately light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Reserved,
but pleasing aromas of lemon creme, nectarine and croissant. Silky on the palate, with inviting flavors
of lemon, pineapple, brioche, creme caramel and nutty oak. Nothing but good things to say about this
2012 Amalie Robert Heirloom Cameo Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.8% alc., 70 cases, $50. Estate
grown from a 30-acre vineyard located just outside of Dalla. Dijon clones fermented in 500-liter puncheons,
partial malolactic fermentation, and aged 14 months with lees stirring in French oak barrels.
yellow color in the glass. The nose is alerted to aromas of baked apple, spice, splintered oak and leafy herbs.
On the rich and ripe side, with good depth, blessed with flavors of yellow peach, yellow apple, poached pear,
and lemon in a balanced style that has begun to take on some tertiary characters with age.
2014 Anam Cara Cellars Nicholas Estate Reserve Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay
$32, screwcap. Dijon clones from 2 acres. Fermented and aged 10 months in neutral French oak barrels with
a small steel tank addition.
Moderately light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Aromas of lemon, honey
and subtle bruised apple lead off. Acidity plays a bigger role than fruit in this wine with flavors of yellow stone
fruits and citrus. I wanted more fruit generosity in the mid palate and finish, but the overall impression was very
conducive and easy to cozy up to.
2013 Beaux Frères Yamhill-Carlton Oregon Chardonnay
12.8% alc., 263 cases, $75. 100% Gran Moraine
Vineyard planted in 2005 in Willakenzie soils. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light golden yellow color and
clear in the glass. Inviting aromas of lemon, pear, honey and roasted nuts. Demure, clean and bright, with juicy
flavors of lemon, white peach and vanilla. Quite focused and harmonious, with well integrated acidity and a
pleasingly succulent citrus-fueled finish.
2014 Cameron Dundee Hills Oregon Chardonnay
12.9% alc., $19.50. A barrel fermented wine that
is a blend of grapes from Clos Electrique and Abbey Ridge vineyards.
Moderately light golden yellow
color and clear in the glass. Aromas of crusty lemon pie, lime peel and lees lead off. Smooth and
slightly viscous in the mouth, with attractive flavors of lemon and green apple with very little oak in put.
The flavors sneak up rather than shout out in this pleasant drink that is nicely balanced.
2013 Chehalem Ian’s Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay
alc., , $40, screwcap. A reserve barrel selection of wines from Stoller and
Corral Creek vineyards. Dijon clones. Aged in 31% new and 26% onceused
French oak barrels.
Moderate golden yellow color in the glass.
Nicely appointed with aromas of ripe pear, lemon curd and custard.
Satiny smooth in texture, with robust flavors of lemon, brioche and crème
brûlée. Admirable balance and some length on the crisp, stone-ground
and citrus-driven finish.
2012 Chehalem Ian’s Reserve Stoller Vineyard Dundee Hills Oregon Chardonnay
13.9% alc., $40,
screwcap. Dijon clones. Aged in French oak barrels, 34% new and 33% once-used.
Moderately light golden
yellow color and clear in the glass. Complex aromas of lemon custard, crusty apple pie and spice along with a
hint of reduction lead off. Nicely composed, strutting a clean and bright personality that is full of sunlight, with
flavors of lemon, green apple, baked pear, caramel and toasty brioche, finishing on a soprano note with lemonlime
2014 Cristom Eola-Amity Hills Estate Chardonnay
14.0% alc., 75 cases, $40, glass stopper. From a 0.5-acre
site of the estate plantings first established in 1993. Barrel fermented and aged on the lees.
Light golden yellow
color and clear in the glass. This wine seems flawed with bruised apple notes on both the nose and palate.
Flavors of Golden Delicious apple, grilled peach, and subtle brioche are presented in sync with a slightly
creamy texture and integrated acidity. Unique, but not in a good way. Tasted twice.
2013 DION Estate Limited Release Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay
12.3% alc., 90 cases, $25.
Harvest Brix 20.1º. Grapes were picked after the September rain downpour. Barrel fermented and aged in both
barrel (20% new French oak) and stainless with lees stirring. Full malolactic fermentation.
yellow color and clear in the glass. Awkward aromas of bruised apple, medicine cabinet and brioche. On the
silky palate, the wine is bright with acidic verve which carries over on the tart finish. The core flavor is Granny
Smith apple in a lightly weighted style. Under ripe with teeth etching acidity.
2013 Domaine Serene Côte Sud Dundee Hills Oregon Chardonnay
13.3% alc., 155 cases, $75. Estate
grown, produced and bottled. Grapes are from a nearly 6-acre, dry-farmed vineyard located at 600 to 680 feet
elevation. Dijon clones closely planted in Jory soil. Fermented and aged on the lees in French oak barrels. Last
tasted March 2016.
Moderate golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Pleasing aromas arrive slowly with
time in the glass, revealing scents of lemon, white peach, apple, and iron-rich earth. Discreet richness on the
palate, with vibrant flavors of white and yellow stone fruits and lemon. Slightly oily in texture and polished in
demeanor with a gorgeous, cleansing finish with some staying power.
2012 Domaine Serene Récolte Grand Cru Dundee Hills Oregon Chardonnay
14.2% alc., 144 cases, $125. Estate
grown, produced and bottled. Composed of barrels from finest
Domaine Serene Estate fruit. Dijon clones planted in Jory soil,
dry-farmed, high-elevation vineyards. The pinnacle of the
winery’s Chardonnay program. Last tasted in March 2016 with
Moderate golden yellow color and clear in the
glass. A serious and hi-collar offering that leads with aromas of lemon oil,
nectarine, garrigue and chalk dust. Satiny smooth in texture, impeccably
crafted, and highly focused, with flavors of lemon pie, grapefruit, and a
compliment of toasty oak. This wine can be enjoyed now, but its balance
predicts long term aging that will most certainly reward the drinker.
2014 Durant Vineyards Lark Dundee Hills Oregon Chardonnay
13.9% alc., pH 3.57, 350 cases, $28.
Clone 96 planted in 1993. Harvest Brix 23.4º. Yields 4+ tons per acre.
Light golden yellow color and clear in the
glass. The nose is fruit shy, offering aromas of brioche and green oak. Soft and slightly creamy on the palate,
offering integrated modest acidity, and lightly flavored notes of citrus, peach, and honeydew melon.
2014 Eola Hills Oregon Chardonnay
12.5% alc., pH 3.23, TA 0.55, RS 6 gm/L, 3,718 cases, $13. Sourced from vineyards throughout Oregon. Harvest Brix 19.2º-24.3º.
Fermented and aged in oak for 8 months.
Moderately light golden yellow color and clear in the glass.
Like able aromas of lemon, mango and white flower lead to pleasing flavors of lemon, baked apple,
brioche, creme caramel, toast and vanilla. The acidity is nicely integrated in this easy to like wine.
2014 Evesham Wood Willamette Valley Oregon Chardonnay
12.5% alc., $14, screwcap. Unfiltered.
golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Aromas of citrus, saline, nori and flint lead to a crisp core of lemonlime
fruits accented with notes of nori and pungent floral fragrances. Smooth in the mouth, with a lip-smacking,
2013 Goodfellow Family Cellars Whistling Ridge Vineyard Ribbon Ridge Oregon Chardonnay
alc., 220 cases, $N/A. From a 14-acre dry farmed vineyard planted in 1990 in Willakenzie soil.
yellow color and clear in the glass. Aromas arrive and depart over time, showing lemon-lime, green grass,
brioche, toast and a hint of petrol. Soft and smooth on the palate with lemon-lime, peach, and vanilla flavors
underlain with brisk acidity that confers a cleansing sensation on the finish.
2014 Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.5% alc., pH 3.27, TA
0.63, 275 cases, $45, screwcap. Vineyard is home to oldest plantings of Dijon clones in Willamette
Valley (1990). A blend of clones 76 and 95 planted in Jory soil in 1995. Aged 6 months in French oak
barrels, 20% new. Last tasted in March 2016.
Light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Lovely
aromas of lemon, grapefruit, green apple and white flower. Soft in the mouth, with the full display of
citrus fruits as well as notes of apple, spice and honey. Bright and crisp, with a wave of citrus returning
at the end.
2014 Longplay “Jory Slope” Lia’s Vineyard Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay
13.0% alc., 44
cases, $32. Jay Somers winemaker and Todd Hansen grower.
Light golden yellow color and clear in
the glass. Faint lemon aromas are accented with a touch of hazelnut and white flower. Apple-driven on
the palate with added notes of white peach and nutty oak in the background. Smooth and pristine, with
2014 Morgen Long Yamhill Vineyards Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.0% alc., $49. This wine is crafted by
Seth Morgen Long, a Portland-based wine broker and Chardonnay
Light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Nicely
perfumed with striking aromas of lemon drop, white peach and subtle
nutty oak. Satiny smooth, with high brow flavors of lemon, white stone
fruits and vanilla creme. Adeptly fashioned and pleasing from the entry to
2012 Ponzi Vineyards Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.8% alc., $32. A blend of Dijon clones
grown primarily on Laurelwood soils.
Light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Aromas of forest path,
nutty oak and flint. A simple wine with a soft mouthfeel and pleasing citrus flavors backed by prevalent nutty
oak. The slippery finish has more citrus-fueled intensity than the entry. A sulfur note rises up on the finish.
2014 RoseRock Drouhin Roserock Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Oregon Chardonnay
14.1% alc., $33. LIVE certified sustainable
vineyard farmed by Philippe Drouhin. Volcanic soils. Whole cluster pressed with equal parts sent to tank and
barrel. Once malolactic fermentation was completed, winemaker Veronique Drouhin assembled the two
portions into the final cuvée.
Light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Very shy aromas of wet stones,
lemon oil and honeysuckle. Flavorful, with tastes of lemon, caramel and brioche in a fairly simply styled wine
with bright acidity and welcome crispness.
2012 Tendril White Label Willamette Valley Oregon Chardonnay
13.5% alc., $40. Crafted by noted
winemaker Tony Rynders. 62% Yamhill-CArlton and 38% Chehalem Mountains. Aged 15 months in French oak
barrels, 30% new.
Moderately light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Leading off are aromas of grilled
lemon, green apple, spice and talc. Sound acidity and silky texture make this a highly enjoyable wine that
features flavors of lemon curd, caramel and slight butterscotch. There is definitely evidence of fermentation and
aging in oak, but the effect is complimentary rather than intrusive.
2014 WildAire Open Claim Vineyard Willamette Valley Chardonnay
14.1% alc., 137 cases, $35. Whole
cluster pressed, fermented and aged on the lees in French oak barrels, 16% new.
Light golden yellow color
and clear in the glass. Extremely shy nose that resists exposing itself despite vigorous swirling over time. Much
more expressive on the palate with tastes of Golden Delicious apple and toasty brioche. Satiny smooth in the
mouth with juicy acidity and a clean finish.
2014 Walter Scott Freedom Hill Vineyard Willamette Valley Oregon Chardonnay
13.2% alc., pH 3.21, 100
cases, $45 (sold out). Dijon clone 95. Inaugural wine from this vineyard. Native fermentation. Fermented and
aged in a new puncheon and four neutral barrels for 11 months, finished in stainless steel for three months.
Light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Aromas of wet stones, graphite, lemon waver, vanilla and slight
nutty oak. Slightly viscous and moderately weighty, with flavors of lemon and baked pear, finishing with good
cut and a little salinity.
2014 Walter Scott X Novo Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Oregon Chardonnay
13.45% alc., pH 3.24,
150 cases, $45 (sold out). Close to 15 different clones. Native fermentation. Fermented and aged in a
new puncheon, second fill puncheon, and a few neutral oak barrels for 11 months, finished in stainless
steel for three months.
Light golden yellow color and clear. Very appealing aromas of lemon oil, apple,
brioche, pain grille and the slightest flint. Sleek and balanced on the palate, with impressive focus and
crispness, featuring flavors of citrus, yellow apple, yellow peach, subtle nutty oak, and garrigue. The
fruit saturates the mid palate and really hangs on through the clean finish.
2014 Walter Scott Cuvée Anne Willamette Valley Oregon Chardonnay
13.25% alc., pH 3.24, 250 cases, $40 (sold out).
Mostly Dijon 76 and 95 with 30% X Novo blend of clones.
golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Wonderful aromas of
fresh lemon, white peach, and complimentary brioche and nutty
oak. Delicious and vivacious flavors of lemon curd, pear,
honeycomb, and toffee. The mouthfeel is satiny smooth in this wine of
immense charm that offers a vivid infusion of flavors on the attack and
mid palate, carrying through to a vibrant finish that urges another sip.
This is a shining example of Oregon’s potential for Chardonnay.
2013 Winderlea Vineyards & Winery Willamette Valley Oregon Chardonnay
13.5% alc., 525 cases, $38.
Sourced from Carabella Vineyard (43%), Hyland Vineyard (37%) and Thistle Vineyard (18%). Dijon 76 and 95,
California 108 and 04. Aged 10 months in French oak, 17% new.
Moderately light golden yellow color in the
glass. Shy but pleasant aromas of spiced apple, lemon creme and vanilla. Crisp, clean and sleek, with flavors
of lemon and yellow apple, finishing with a tight cut of citrus-fueled acidity.
Bonus: Aged Oregon Chardonnays
2002 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Grown Willamette Valley Oregon Chardonnay
My notes on this wine fill an entire page but I
will summarize here. Moderately dark butterscotch yellow color and clear
in the glass. Engaging aromas of butterscotch, buttery brioche, toast,
grilled peach and vanilla. An amazing array of intense flavors meet the
palate with tastes of lemon, white peach, hazelnut, apricot, nectarine,
and creme caramel. Surprisingly fresh and vibrant with an old
Chardonnay veneer that astounds. Silky smooth in texture, with
seamless pride, and a lip-smacking finish. I stuck it in the refrigerator
after tasting and revisited it the following day. The nose was a little more
funky, but oh my, the palate was still stellar and my wife and I finished
the bottle with a big smile. This may be the greatest old domestic
Chardonnay I have ever tasted. Honestly, I liked this wine more than any
of the other more recent Oregon Chardonnay offerings reviewed in this article!