Burgundy is a place, a long, skinny place, and it’s in France. To wine people—ignore deniers—France is the center of the known universe and at its heart Burgundy lays claim to some deep emotion among its sometimes monomaniacal fans. Burgundy has devotees.
For the past hundred years and more Burgundy has largely been considered the greatest and most important white wine in the world…Quibbling aside…and to make white wine in Burgundy they grow chardonnay. And that’s why we grow chardonnay. In the 1960’s and 70’s, when California, especially its state funded university at Davis, was getting serious about modern winemaking, planting chardonnay seemed to be the clearest route to world class wine.
Before the wine riot that kicked off the 80’s, UC Davis was better known as the place to go to become a large animal veterinarian and a lot of Davis winemakers in the early days transferred from engineering or botany or chemistry. Their wine leadership was rooted in a laboratory, where the clean and clinical science of wine could free us from that Old World confusion. And they did a lot to clean up wine. Yet they could never get France off their minds…. and launched an effort to craft Burgundian wines in the new world. New worlders knew those old worlders put their chardonnay in oak barrels. If we just grow chardonnay and put it in oak… we will not make burgundian wine it turns out, we will accidentally create the pumpkin spice of wine: big, fat, hot-tub chardonnay. If you love it, you love it; otherwise, loathed. I’m not saying it’s all California made but it’s a style that drove the whole wine market for a while.) Winemakers are now curbing their excesses and again delivering balanced and bright chardonnays often handsomely juiced with oak but not encased in it. The Willamette Valley in Oregon by the way is called a bridge between California style chard and traditional Burgundy and worth a look in if you haven’t yet.