2018 Benton-Lane First Class Chardonnay
What happens when Willamette Valley, Oregon, applies its riches to making Chardonnay?
The answer’s pure magic. But for decades, nobody knew. The thought was there in the late 1970s – Willamette can grow exceptional Pinot Noir in the Burgundian mode. And if Burgundy also makes great Chardonnay, why not Willamette?
Alas, it almost was not to be. The clonal material—the physical Chardonnay grapes and their DNA—all came from California in the 1970s, because nothing else available. Oregon producers are at pains to tell you that California is not Oregon and they’re right. All that wonderful heat and sunshine can ripen huge clusters of California Chardonnay but when transplanted to Oregon, it was a recipe for bitter, underripe fruit. Literally, it’s like the tomatoes in your garden that didn’t get enough heat – they stayed green-tasting like crabapples, instead of luscious and juicy. Many producers in Willamette tried to get it right over the past 40 years, but to this palate, success was elusive.
Until now – we are proud to offer Benton-Lane “First Class” Chardonnay. This wonderful Chardonnay gets everything right. The winemakers, Steve and Carol Girard, both grew up in the San Francisco Bay area with parents who loved wine. High school sweethearts from the start, they moved up to Napa to pursue their lives together in wine once Steve finished his service in the. In fact, you may recognize their last name – because they founded the eponymous Napa Valley Winery that later became famous and continues to this day.
Attending wine tastings, Carol discovered something different than what Napa could offer – cool climate varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Before long, both Steve and Carol were seduced by these varietals, and a second chapter of their wine lives began.
After searching the globe for five years, they settled in Willamette Valley. But not just any place in Willlamette Valley: a 100-year-old ranch named Sunnymount. Here, Mother Nature had done something spectacular – not only was it on the prime slope of the western side of Willamette Valley, but farther west, in the Costal Mountain range, sits a mountain. Clearly visible and shining brightly in the morning sun, this mountain not only gives Sunnymount Ranch its name, but it also acts as a rain break to the ranch. Simply put, those ever-present rain clouds of the Pacific Northwest get pushed north or south, around the ranch, when they collide with the mountain. Navy pilots call this effect a “keyhole in the clouds.” And that sunny keyhole is why this Chardonnay must be tasted to be believed:
The wine is a clear, rich pale golden color with amazing tropical and citrus notes. The aromas of pineapple, melon, grapefruit, lemon-lime and white peach combine well with the butterscotch and vanilla notes. The layered flavors of peach, apple, vanilla, toffee, honey, and crème brûlée blend together for a creamy mouthfeel and finishes with a nutty, spicy oak finish. The flavors will be enhanced if it is served cool instead of chilled. While it is perfect to drink now, if you’re taking a dry January, don’t worry – it’ll be great for at least five more years.
Why the name? Sunnymount Ranch straddles the county lines of Benton and Lane – and Girard was already taken. And if you’re a pilot (or just flying in an airplane), wouldn’t you like the upgrade to first class? The winery gave us a heck of a deal. Don’t miss it.