The first is time itself. It takes time to experiment with new clones, to plant in new vineyards and watch them mature. It also takes time to investigate new fermentation techniques, such as intentionally allowing the juice to oxidize (so-called black Chardonnay).
It’s important to factor in changing tastes as well. There will always be a place for ultra-ripe wines aged in heavily toasted new oak barrels, but few would contend that such wines are still mainstream. The current wave of wine influencers, such as sommeliers and critics, generally favor lower-alcohol, high-acid styles that pair well with food. Consumers are finding that these elegant Chardonnays offer more aromatic and textural pleasure than the old “clobber ’em with butter and oak” wines.
The spread of biodynamic and regenerative farming also contributes to the overall complexity and quality now found in the state. The use of native yeasts, though still a bit controversial, has been widely adopted and brings more unique accents to the wines, adding further flavor interest. Fermentation vessels such as clay and concrete have joined stainless tanks and oak barrels in the winemaker’s toolkit, which together yield an array of flavors and textures within the Chardonnay spectrum.
All these evolutionary changes have resulted in a growing number of world class Oregon Chardonnays. Producers such as Archery Summit, Bergström, Day, Domaine Divio, Domaine Drouhin Oregon/Drouhin Oregon Roserock, Domaine Serene, Lange, Lingua Franca, Walter Scott, White Walnut and 00 offer multiple Chardonnays in any given vintage well differentiated by clone or vineyard.
Most current and upcoming releases will be from the 2019 and 2020 vintages. Though smoke from wildfires impacted many red wines in 2020, the white wines are so far looking really good and should not be missed.
00 Wines 2019 Kathryn Hermann Cuvée Chardonnay (Chehalem Mountains); $175, Wine-searcher. The grapes are from the Chehalem Mountain Vineyard and were aged 23 months in a new French oak barrel… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Bergström 2019 Old Stones Chardonnay (Willamette Valley); $40, Vivino. Though billed as the “baby sister” to the winery’s top-of-the-line Sigrid Chardonnay, this really need not take a back seat to any wine… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Cristom 2019 Chardonnay (Eola-Amity Hills); $40, Wine.com or Vivino. Wonderfully floral on the nose, sappy and rich on the palate, this expressive wine is packed with flavorful fruits perfectly set against tangy acidity…. SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW