Cristom's Chardonnay: A Rare Oregon Gem
Cristom needs no introduction.
For decades they have been amongst the most influential growers and producers in all of Willamette.
They have helped forge the current trajectory that the best Oregon producers have been traveling on for some time.
It is a trajectory towards meticulous, sustainable farming in vineyards planted in the high density style common in Burgundy. Of wines that are structured and transparent with minimal intervention in the cellar so as to let their exceptional, world class terroir shine through.
Since the beginning, the story of Cristom has been told almost exclusively through Pinot Noir.
After all, they have some of the most sought after sites in what has to be Oregon's Cote d’Or: the Eola-Amity Hills.
Planted in 1992 by the Gerrie family, Cristom vineyards have always been farmed sustainably and in recent years they’ve begun to adopt Biodynamic practices. The four estate Pinot Noir vineyards - Eileen, Jessie, Louise and Marjorie, named for Gerrie family matriarchs - each possess natural variances in soil, elevation and exposition.
The Cristom estate fruit is sought after by many of Oregon's best producers and those four names have graced some of the Beaver State’s legendary Pinot bottlings.
Here's what most folks don't know: back in 1992, a small corner of the Louise vineyard was planted for Chardonnay. From these old vines, Cristom has produced a wine that showcases, vintage after vintage, Oregon's nearly unmatched ability to produce Chardonnay.
But, back in the day, folks tended to dismiss Oregon Chardonnay. So planting a whole vineyard of it was considered quite risky. Now, the cognoscenti see it as the greatest untapped potential of any wine region, with wines that rival Burgundy in their ability to convey terroir.
In this new paradigm, Cristom's Estate Chardonnay is a benchmark.
Unfortunately, this is a benchmark that few of us have gotten the chance to experience.
The estate bottling has always been a "tasting room exclusive."
In 2018, the small plot produced a total of 5 barrels. That's nothing, even for producers dealing with small quanitities.
Louise Vineyard was chosen because of its eastern exposure which showers the vines in early morning sun during a typically cool time of day.
This comes from the upper part of the vineyard which is planted at 2,311 vines/acre (very dense) in very deep Columbia River Basalt soils known as Jory that grades downslope to moderately deep Nekia.
Both of these soils are known to be mineral rich and very well draining allowing the roots to drive deep into the ground.
Like all of the Cristom wines, the grapes for this Estate Chardonnay were hand harvested and fermented with native yeast. Malolactic fermentation was completed in old oak barrels and the wine rested for twelve months in French oak (31% new).
The wine is exceptional and is imbued with many of the same qualities that make white Burgundy so irresistible.
A touch of reduction joins the crushed stone and white flowers on the nose nose. The rich yet lifted palate is filled with tension and energy. Throughout, there is a Mineral rhythm driving us to the finish. This beautifully displays Eola-Amity's Unique volcanic soil, giving the wine a flinty almost smoky quality.
These bottles ended up in our hands because of a fortuitous mistake.
In 2018, Crisotm produced a non-estate Chardonnay with fruit grown by like-minded producers in Eola-Amity. That's what we thought we were getting. Turns out that what they had at the California warehouse was the Louise Vineyard Estate Chardonnay. After some back and forth, we bought all that was left.
So here we find ourselves in an enviable position of having one of the best West Coast Chardonnays, from an amazing vintage that we can sell at an amazing price. For lovers of Chardonnay the world over, this is not to be missed.