Chardonnay in Dry Creek Valley
While Dry Creek Valley is universally recognized for growing and producing top-notch sauvignon blanc, chardonnay is actually the top planted white wine variety in the Valley. According to a 2015 acreage report, there are roughly 902 acres of chardonnay out of a total 7,599 planted acres in DCV. It is also the top grape planted in all of California over any other variety.
You may not see many chardonnays labeled as “Dry Creek Valley” out there, but that’s majorly because this fruit tends to be sold to larger producers and ends up more broadly labeled as Sonoma County or California. With that said, Dry Creek Valley does have a handful of wineries who produce incredible AVA and even vineyard designated chardonnays. Seek these out and you’ll see what makes Dry Cry “chard” so special.
Beginning back in the 1970s, deciding what to plant locally was based on the grape gospel from UC Davis and the Ag Extension Service. Chardonnay was one of the initial recommendations for Dry Creek Valley and was widely planted throughout the 16×2 miles. John Pedroncelli acknowledges that “through the years we found out we were a little warm up here for both chardonnay and pinot noir. They do better in the slightly cooler areas; so we purchase all of those grapes now from basically one vineyard, the Frank Johnson Vineyard, which is the southernmost vineyard still in the Dry Creek appellation.” It’s noted on Pedroncelli’s website that they now also source their chardonnay grapes from the Akerlind Vineyard.
Thanks to trial and error, we kept the chardonnay in the southern part of the AVA, which is cooler and the northern, warmer part of the valley is now replanted to cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel. The diverse microclimate in Dry Creek Valley makes growing a diverse skew of varieties successful.
Winery + Grower Notes
David Eckert, winemaker, grower & owner over at Zo Wines, produces one of the highest rating chardonnays in the Valley claiming, “We love Dry Creek chardonnay! Dry Creek chardonnay produces wonderful hints of Pineapple, lemon and apple. It grows evenly and ripens wonderfully. Dry Creek is distinctive from our neighbors in that it makes a great acid driven food friendly base to work with in the cellar.”
Katarina Bonde, winemaker & proprietor at West Wines, “loves our Dry Creek Valley chardonnay. We grow it in our creek side vineyard close to Dry Creek in the south end of Dry Creek Valley almost where Dry Creek runs into Russian River. We find this to be the best location for the crisp Burgundy style of chardonnay that we produce. We get aromas of crisp green apple flavor, honeysuckle and citrus.”
Different Styles of Chardonnay
You’ll see a variety of expressions of chardonnay that can depend on terroir but are generally more reflective on how the wine is fermented.
Dry Creek Valley chardonnays will exhibit more tropical fruit flavors indicative of their warmer climate. Chardonnays fermented in oak are rich, full-bodied and have additional notes of vanilla, butter, crème bruleé and caramel. Ask any winemaker, and guaranteed they can talk for hours about oak, so we’ll let that conversation happen for your next visit.
David Rafanelli was “way ahead of the time” when he set out to make French Oak barrel fermented chardonnays from Dry Creek Valley back in ’75 as General Manager for a neighboring West Dry Creek Winery. “We got some great acclaim, some real hot wines – chardonnays… retailers were clamoring for barrel fermented chardonnays.” If only we could still find a bottle of that, we could only imagine the stories it would tell.
If you’ve ever thought chardonnay just ‘isn’t for me’, think again. Unoaked chardonnays fermented in stainless steel containers can be more similar in profiles like you’ll find in sauvignon blanc – where flavors like ripe citrus, pineapple and ripe figs are bountiful. An unoaked Dry Creek chardonnay might be rare, but that only means you need to stock up when you find it.
Sparkling/Blanc de Blanc
When making sparkling wines, winegrowers harvest their wine early on in the season because you don’t want the sugar levels to be too high in the finished product. For this reason, blanc de blancs from Dry Creek Valley are very coveted and limitedly produced. But we drink it up when we can! Blanc de blancs are typically 100% chardonnay grapes and typically have more lemon and apple-like fruit flavors. You’ll find more sparkling chardonnay produced from our neighbors to the southwest in Russian River Valley.
West Wines creates an incredible Blanc de Blancs named Sea Foam using the traditional méthode champenoise which in the glass Bonde says is a, “dry crisp sparkling which also shows both green apple and honeysuckle aroma straight from the chardonnay grapes and the characteristic croissant flavors from the second fermentation and aging in the bottle.”
Chardonnay + Food
Chardonnay is an excellent wine to enjoy with food and can be paired with a diversity of flavors, proteins and roughage. Try it with a semi-soft mild cheese & fig salad or if you’d prefer something with more sustenance, enjoy alongside some Lemon Tarragon Chicken Breast. If you’re interested in a unique treat, grab a bottle of unoaked chardonnay and indulge with some fresh Hog Island oysters.
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