Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 45

During last month’s Virginia Wine Chat at Rappahannock Cellars, we had a lively discussion about which grape was the most under-utilized grape in Virginia.  Not the most under-planted grape, the most under-utilized grape (and by utilized, we meant used effectively.)

Rappahannock winemaker, Theo Smith, suggested Chardonnay as an under-utilized grape, and the more I sat there and thought about it, the more I agreed.  Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape variety in Virginia (heck, it’s the most popular white wine grape in the world). But, planting a lot of Chardonnay in Virginia doesn’t make it the most utilized grape in the Commonwealth.

I feel like a lot of Virginia wineries use Chardonnay as their “safety wine”.  Well over half the wineries in Virginia make Chardonnay.  And why wouldn’t they?  Chardonnay is adaptable, expressive, and wildly popular.  It’s money.  But safe wine is often boring wine.

A while back, I read a quote from New Zealand winemaker, Neil Culley, and it resonated with me:

Chardonnay is often called the winemaker’s grape, a blank canvas of creativity, presenting a winemaker with the opportunity to show off his or her stylistic chops — to get out their winemaker’s palette and create a really good Chardonnay.

There are a handful of Virginia wineries that consistently produce really good Chardonnay.
But, I taste a lot of completely decent, but ultimately boring, Virginia Chardonnay, too.  There’s nothing really wrong with it, but I’m not carrying a bottle of Chardonnay to my car after the tasting.  Happily, the Chardonnay bar has been rising in Virginia (at least according to my palate), as more and more Virginia winemakers are making terroir driven Chardonnay that’s restrained, complex, and really good.  Utilization is on an upswing.

But, at the end of the day . . . I’m not a winemaker.  I have no idea how difficult or not difficult it is to make Chardonnay.  Winemakers?  Wine-drinkers?  What are your thoughts?  Is it difficult to make a really good Chardonnay?


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