Feature Story

Game Changers | Willamette Chardonnay

Pinot noir gets all the attention in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, yet, as vineyard developments have spread south and west, pockets of chardonnay land have emerged, growing wines that may someday challenge the pinot noir status quo. Elaine Chukan Brown reported on the trend in our October 2017 issue, tracing the upswing to a wine Dominique Lafon made at Evening Land Vineyards in 2007 (Summum, the current incarnation of ELV’s top chardonnay, earned 95 points from W&S critic Patrick J. Comiskey in its latest release.) That wine, from Seven Springs Vineyard, has inspired new plantings, like X-Novo and Kindred from Craig Williams, and Hope Well from Mimi Casteel, as well as renewed interest in older parcels, like Bunker Hill in the South Salem Hills. Walter Scott, Chapter 24 and Lingua Franca, all run by Evening Land alums, have made exceptional chardonnay from Bunker Hill. Here are some examples of new releases from south-central Willamette, with tasting notes from Comiskey. If you haven’t tasted any Willamette chardonnay recently, you owe it to yourself to check these out.

Bergström 2015 Willamette Valley Old Stones Chardonnay
The old stones in question are found on Temperance Hill in the Eola–Amity Hills, where Bergström sources this chardonnay. This wine never lacks for minerality, but it’s also bold and stylish, with golden fruit and a nutty caramel accent to its yeasty, tarte-tatin flavors. (94 points, $35; 1,000 cases)

Bryn Mawr 2016 Eola–Amity Hills Chardonnay
With delicate, high-toned apple-and-lees scents and a firm acidity that ripples through the fruit, this has a crunchiness, focus and a compelling sense of seashell minerality. Pour with lobster thermidor. (93 points, $35; 220 cases)

Evening Land Vineyards 2015 Eola–Amity Hills Summum Seven Springs Estate Chardonnay
A volcanic spine runs through the center of Seven Springs Vineyard. The rows in that block regularly contribute to the Summum chardonnay, and no matter how warm the vintage, its structure stands as if tethered to that spine. This 2015 is ample, smelling of golden apples and lees, and while the flavors are no less substantial, the wine remains texturally lean and focused, with vibrant acidity and a stony grip. This will reward patient cellaring. (95 points, $100; 201 cases)

Cristom 2016 Eola–Amity Hills Chardonnay
Cristom has made small amounts of chardonnay since the early 1990s. This one is at once lean and generous, chewy caramel notes and wheaty accents supporting pear and pineapple flavors. It’s quiet, balanced and comfortable in its middle weight and modest acids. (93 points, $40; 63 cases)

Walter Scott 2015 Willamette Valley Cuvée Anne Chardonnay
This savory, smoky white includes fruit from X Novo, Freedom Hill and Gibson. It’s crisp and terse, broadening with air, until the flavors come together with juicy breadth, reverting to a leesy savor on the finish. Pair it with almost anything, from chicken salad to chilled prawns. (90 points, $40; 490 cases)

This feature appears in the print edition of the Fall 2018.
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