Jean-Nicolas Méo picking at Bishop Creek

Jean-Nicolas Méo picking at Bishop Creek
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Where to taste the best Oregon Chardonnay

Wine Inspiration
USA

Willamette Valley, long known for Pinot Noir, now has a marquee white grape to call its own.

Oregon, and the Willamette Valley in particular, has long been known for its Pinot Noir, but no white variety ever stood out in quite the same way. Pinot Gris and Riesling earned accolades in their own right, but neither ever staked a claim as the marquee grape. However, in the past couple of decades, one variety  is proving to be a companionable counterpart to Pinot. Through research into clones and terroir, plus a global influence when it comes to winemaking and viticulture, Chardonnay is gaining traction in the Pacific Northwest.

Chardonnay came up to Oregon alongside Pinot Noir in the 1960s. The original plant material from California, however, wasn’t suited to Oregon’s terroir and often failed to adequately ripen. In 1974, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard went to Burgundy, when he realized the connection between improper clones and Oregon’s struggle with Chardonnay. Armed with this information, winemakers back stateside began exploring different Chardonnay clones better suited to their environment.

Although these clones fared better, the big and oaky style of Chardonnay that was popular at the time eclipsed all the winemakers’ efforts. Oregon wasn’t able to achieve the same levels of ripeness that California could, and their lean, mineral-driven Chardonnays didn’t quite resonate with the public that wanted opulent white wines.

In the last few decades, however, palates have shifted, and now the restrained style that Oregon produces is en vogue. Producers in places such as Burgundy have noticed Oregon’s attributes and are setting down roots of their own. There’s even an Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, which started as an industry-only gathering and is now a two-day event open to both consumers and trade alike.

With some much attention being paid to Chardonnay, there’s no better time to visit and taste for yourself. Here are five wineries to check out on your next trip to the Willamette Valley:

Nicolas-Jay

Jay Boberg (founder of I.R.S. Records and former president of MCA/Universal) and Jean-Nicolas Méo (of Burgundy’s Méo-Camuzet), seem like an unlikely duo to establish a winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, but that’s exactly what these two Pinot Noir lovers—and friends for over 30 years—did in 2014. Serving as a bridge between the two is associate winemaker Tracy Kendall, considered a rising star in the region. In just a few short years, this trio has garnered international attention for Nicolas-Jay's Burgundy-inspired Pinots and more recently, Chardonnays. Given the musical credentials, of one of its founders, it is no surprise the tasting room always has a great playlist going.

Résonance

When Maison Louis Jadot wanted to start a new project outside of the company’s home in Burgundy, it headed to an area that was becoming known among neighboring producers for exceptional Pinot Noir: Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Jadot's purchase of the Résonance Vineyard ten years ago led to what is now one of the region’s preeminent wineries. Joining the single-vineyard and appellation expressions of Pinots is a growing portfolio of Chardonnays. Their tasting room, inspired by the barns of the area and built from reclaimed wood, stone, and natural materials, offers sweeping views of the vineyards and serves as the ideal setting for tasting their Burgundy-meets-Oregon Chardonnays.

Bergström Wines

Family-owned Bergström has long been regarded as one of Oregon’s top producers and known for its complex and age-worthy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Second-generation owner Josh Bergström and his wife Caroline,  a Burgundy native, met in Beaune and now oversee the work started by Josh’s parents in the 1990s. They produce six different Chardonnays across their five estate vineyards. Book a tasting at their tasting room, located on their namesake Bergström vineyard, and surround yourself with the essence of the Willamette Valley.

Evening Land Vineyards

Winemakers Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr (also a well-known sommelier and James-Beard award-winning author) earned acclaim for their restrained Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the Sta Rita Hills AVA in California and helped usher in a movement towards more balanced and acid-driven wines. In the mid-aughts, they turned their attention north and began farming and making wine from the Seven Springs Vineyard in Willamette Valley’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA, one of the region’s most iconic vineyards, eventually acquiring the site in 2014. Book a private tour of the vineyard, or drop by their tasting room in downtown Dundee for a casual flight.

Adelsheim

David and Ginny Adelsheim were instrumental in the development of the Willamette Valley wine industry, being one of the first to plant vines in the region, and, as mentioned prior, the ones to set Chardonnay on its correct path. Now under the direction of winemaker Gina Hennan, Adelsheim continues to produce well-regarded appellation and vineyard-designate still wines, as well as sparkling wines, based on Chardonnay. Taste through a flight at the tasting bar, or book a more in-depth experience in the barrel cave.

 

Shana Clarke
Shana Clarke
Author
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