Vineyard & Winery Management

March/April 2013

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MARKET WATCH TIM TEICHGRAEBER When Less is More Chardonnay haters are being won over by unoaked versions on't call it a comeback. Chardonnay has been on top so long that you'd figure there was nowhere to go but down. Somehow chardonnay keeps finding ways to reinvent itself and satisfy consumers, whether it's relocation to cooler climates, diversification of clonal options or evolution of winemaking techniques. Rumors of chardonnay's demise may have been greatly exaggerated. As much as there's been a broad reining-in of woody, blowsy New World chardonnays, lots of U.S. wineries have decided to reverse course completely and present customers with a completely unoaked chardonnay. It has proved to be a hot category, too. After budding out more than a decade ago, the unoaked chardonnay category appears to be in full bloom and enjoying steady growth that shows no sign of weakening. Christian Miller, research director for Wine Opinions in St. Helena, Calif., said that his organization began to alert clients to the strong potential of unoaked chardonnay in a 2006 CoreTrack III report. "A 2007 follow-up report on unoaked chardonnay in particular found that awareness was increasing, from 55% in 2006 to 65% in 2007, and interest in trying it among those who were aware and had not was extremely high – 86%," said Miller. "We also uncovered a dichotomy between age groups. Older (Baby Boomer-plus) consumers were more likely to drink chardonnay regularly and proclaim it a favorite variety than younger consumers; younger consumers were both less interested in chardonnay and more interested in trying unoaked chardonnay." Nielsen vice president of beverage alcohol Danny Brager has tracked unoaked chardonnay as well. According to Brager, in w w w. v w m the year ending Nov. 10, 2012, "Unoaked chardonnay shows strong value growth at plus-48% versus total chardonnay at only plus-2.2% growth. The unoaked chardonnay segment is still relatively small, accounting for only 2.4% of all chardonnay sales, but this share is up 0.7 points versus a year ago. The top five brands account for 60% of unoaked chardonnay sales. Unoaked chardonnay sales are much more concentrated in (the) grocery (store category), as 64% of sales are in this channel. This compares to 57% of all chardonnay sales." The handful of top + Sales of unoaked chardonnay grew unoaked chardonnay 48% in the last year, compared to 2.2% producers may account for chardonnay overall. for a large share of grocery store sales, yet + Younger wine drinkers have more wineries all over the interest in unoaked chardonnay than country are starting to their elders. produce unwooded ver+ Oak-free chardonnay has the potensions of the variety, and tial to renew interest in the variety. many are finding it to be as popular, if not more + Half or more consumers prefer unoso, than their traditional aked chardonnay in side-by-side comb a r r e l - m a t u r e d c h a rparisons with oaked versions. donnays. The oak-free wines they're introducing to their customers are reshaping the image of America's most popular wine and giving chardonnay new relevance to younger wine drinkers. SHORT COURSE THE UNWOODED WEB Meg and Tom Gerrish of Miami, Fla., fell so hard for unoaked chardonnay that they decided to document their exploration of the category with a website,, where they post pictures and tasting notes of examples they have found. "We were real beer drinkers," Meg M a r - A p r 2 0 13 | V I N E YA R D & W I N E RY M A N A G E M E N T 25

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