Good Fruit Grower

April 15

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30 APRIL 15, 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER C hardonnay is America's favorite wine. But in Washington State, the white variety is losing ground to red varieties, says wine writer and critic Andy Perdue. For the first time in years, Cabernet Sauvignon out-produced Riesling and Chardonnay, according to the 2013 crush report released in early March by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wineries crushed 42,600 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, an increase of almost 20 percent from the previous year. Chardonnay was the second most-produced variety at 40,500 tons, followed by Riesling at 40,200 tons. Total tonnage for the 2013 crop was 210,000 tons, up 12 percent from 2012. Chardonnay has enjoyed a strong, 50-year history in Washington, said Perdue, co-owner of the web magazine Great Northwest Wine. One of the first plantings was in 1963 on Harrison Hill in Yakima Valley by the stakeholders of Associated Vintners. The most recent statewide acreage survey conducted in 2011 reported 7,600 acres are planted. "In 1993, Chardonnay tonnage surpassed Riesling as the number-one producing variety, and it held that number-one spot for fourteen years until 2007," Perdue said during the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers in Kennewick. Since then, it has been neck and neck with Riesling until last year. Chardonnay was the focus of the meeting's grand tasting, an annual event that features a panel discussion about a variety and includes an audience tasting of selected wines. "Today, Chardonnay is planted in nearly every AVA [American Viticultural Area] in Washington," said Perdue. "But Washington is becoming a red- dominated wine state." Though Chardonnay sales in all price categories were slightly down last year in America, the variety still represented about 20 percent of all wine sales, according to Glenn Proctor, global wine broker with Ciatti Wine Company in San Rafael, California. Based on consumer food purchase data collected by A.C. Nielsen, sales of Chardonnay wines were down slightly from the previous year. However, wine sales as a category had increased 2.2 percent, he said. "Chardonnay isn't the queen of the castle anymore," Proctor said, though he noted that Chardonnay production is still growing and increased from 40 million cases in 2003 to 56 million in 2013. "But other white varieties, like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris, are hot now and also growing." Opportunity He sees opportunity with the variety, but noted that winemakers have made it confus- ing for consumers because of the different Chardonnay wine styles. Also, he said there's a perception problem for Washington Chardonnay because people think Washington is a Cabernet Sauvignon state. Kevin Mott, winemaker at Woodward Canyon Cellars, said choosing a Chardonnay wine style is an evolution. Chardonnay was the first variety planted by Rick Small, owner Washington is becoming a red-dominated wine state, but there's room for Chardonnay. by Melissa Hansen of Woodward Canyon and the winery's first Chardonnay wines were released for sale in 1982. "They were the rich, buttery, oaky style, typical of Chardonnay in the 1980s," said Mott. "For me, our Chardonnay style has been an evolution. Over time, I grew to dislike that rich style." Today, he says their Chardonnay wines reflect the tastes of their customers, and the wines are leaner, crisper, and pair better with foods than the oaky, buttery styles of the past. Grapes Chardonnay's FUTU PHOTOS BY TJ MULLINAX David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, California, shares Chardonnay wine making techniques during the grand tasting session at winter grape talks that focused on Chardonnay. Dustin Tobin participates in the Chardonnay grand tasting session.

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