For a while we couldn't get enough of Chardonnay. Now
there's the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) set refusing
to drink wine from this wonderful grape. But, that's their
loss and our gain.
DNA profiling by Dr Carole Meredith from the University
of California at Davis proves that Chardonnay is a
cross of an old, nearly extinct variety called Gouais
Blanc and a member of the Pinot family. Chardonnay,
Gamay Noir and many other classic varieties can be
traced back to this cross of Pinot and Gouais Blanc. The
Gouais Blanc grape originated in Croatia and probably
arrived in France with the Romans. Gouais Blanc was not
well liked even then and has been actively dug up
through the centuries hence leading to its now 'nearly extinct'
How did it happen?
"In each case there was a crosspollination
between a Pinot vine and a Gouais Blanc vine
and from the seed that developed a single seedling
sprung up in a vineyard somewhere. A farmer took a liking
to it and multiplied it by cuttings" said Dr Meredith.
And it doesn't end with just Chardonnay. Grape varieties
that trace back to Gouais Blanc and Pinot include: Aligoté,
Aubin vert, Auxerrois, Bachet noir, Beaunoir, Dameron,
Franc noir de la Haute, Saône, Gamay blanc Gloriod,
Gamay noir, Knipperlé, Melon, Peurion, Romorantin,
Roublot and Sacy.
Chardonnay is also known as Aubaine, Beaunois or
There is a village called Chardonnay in Mâconnais in the
southern portion of France's burgundy region. They recently
celebrated their thousandth anniversary and the
name comes from 'cardonnacum' that is known as the
'place full of thistles'. Chardonnay most likely originated
here and was then spread throughout France by the
monks. The earliest recorded reference to Chardonnay
occurs in 1330. Cistercian monks built stonewalls around
their 'Clos de Vougeot' vineyard exclusively planted to
Chardonnay grapes. Another stream of history points towards
Chardonnay coming from Lebanon, but there are
no written references to Chardonnay originating in Lebanon
till much later than 1330.
To further confuse matters, an Austrian vine very similar
to Chardonnay is called Morillon. The name Morillon
has been used during the Middle Ages in the region of
Burgundy and was an old name for Chardonnay in the region
One man in Australia changed the course of history for
Chardonnay. In 1967 Murray Tyrrell jumped the barb-
wire fence to 'liberate' Chardonnay cuttings from Penfolds
experimental HVD vineyard. In a twist of fate,
Tyrrell's bought the HVD vineyard in 1982. Murray
Tyrrell is also credited with establishing the popularity
of Pinot Noir in Australia and creating, in 1966 one of
Australia's first true wine brands: Long Flat.
Chardonnay is the most widely planted variety in Australia
and also in NZ. There is more Chardonnay than
Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz.
Chardonnay is a vigorous, heavy cropping variety with
medium sized bunches. Bunches have tightly packed
berries forming a single cluster not like loosely spaced
Shiraz bunches. A ripe Chardonnay berry is gold yellow
in colour with plenty of juice. Berries are small,
fragile, thin-skinned and require care during harvest to
Australian and other 'new world' wines are named after
the variety of grape used. France the other 'old world'
wine countries name wines according to the region they
come from. Chardonnay is used to make the famous
white burgundies of Montrache and Meursault. It goes
into the champagnes from Champagne and the Chablis
from the Chablis region. In Australia, Chardonnay goes
into the Chardonnays from the Hunter Valley and from
The Gurdies Winery.
Chardonnay is very sensitive to winemaking practices.
Cool climate Chardonnay produces an abundance of
fruit flavours. You can pick up apple, pineapple, peach,
melon and a hint of lemon. The warmer climate Chardonnays
may have less of the fruits but develop wonderful
honey, butterscotch, buttery and nutty oily flavours
that really fill the mouth. Combine this with a
malolactic fermentation (where malic acid is converted
to lactic acid) and the rich 'creamy-buttery' tastes are
Chardonnay is easy to over oak.
The trend of fermenting Chardonnay in oak barrels and
then storing it in new oak can kill the fruit characters.
You know there's too much oak when all you get is vanilla
and cinnamon and no fresh fruit. Thankfully we're
producing a lot more unoaked Chardonnays bursting
with fresh fruit.
Regardless of where it's grown and how it's produced
Chardonnay always has a wonderful sugar/acid balance
and a 'thickness' on the palate that is uniquely Chardonnay.
* Reproduced with permission from Peter Svans at The Gurdies Winery