Chardonnay: New York's Golden Wine Grape
Demonstrating a relatively long history in New York, Chardonnay was one of the first vinifera varieties successfully grown in the state. Many of the early experiments with European style grapes by Charles Fournier and Konstantin Frank at the Finger Lakes based Gold Seal Wineries in the 1950s were with Chardonnay. Their goal was to produce vinifera grapes for use in the company's sparkling wines thereby producing a higher quality product. These efforts represented the first time European grapes had been grown in commercial quantities in the United States
east of the Rocky Mountains.
Among the first vinifera vines planted on the North Fork of Long Island were Chardonnay. The varietal was thought to be the prime candidate as the signature wine for the North Fork and was only overshadowed by the region's success with Merlot. The Hudson River Region established Chardonnay as a varietal that produces some of the best wines from the region. Lake Erie and Niagara Escarpment AVAs (American Viticultural Area) are making their first steps towards producing fine vinifera wines with Chardonnay.
In her book The Oxford Companion to Wine wine critic Jancis Robinson observed: "In Chardonnay, is one of the happiest of all combinations: the grower loves to grow it, the wine maker lives to fashion it and we all love to drink it." The Chardonnay grape has a neutral flavor profile, possessing neither distinctive nor pronounced flavors nor aromas of its own. Chardonnay wines take most of their character from the terroir and cellar. It is an exceedingly malleable varietal displaying very different character depending on the growing conditions and vinification practices employed. The variability of styles is arguably greater than any other white wine varietal. The flavors exhibited by Chardonnay wines are highly influenced by the methods the winemaker takes to vinifying the crush. Major options are fermentation in steel or wood, malolactic fermentation, barrel or steel aging, sur lie aging or racking, and bottle aging. These techniques have a more profound effect on Chardonnay than other varietal. While most other white varietals are usually vinified in a specific traditional method with deviation usually producing less than ideal results. In the hands of a skilled winemaker with a clear vision, the techniques available in the cellar can be brought to positive results with Chardonnay. The styles of Chardonnays available from New York winemakers display the whole range that the varietal is capable of.