Seven times over the past three decades, an intimate group of French and American winemaking masters have come together to divulge in the tradition, expertise and secrecy of all-things-Chardonnay. Gathering in Meursault, the quaint village in the heart of France’s Burgundy region, 14 of the world’s finest Chardonnay producers traveled near and far to join the culmination of “Focus on Chardonnay.” The highly regarded event paid homage to decades of convention and camaraderie as the art of Old World and New World winemaking united once again.
A tradition since 1986, the invitation-only event alternates between France and California at each gathering, where winemakers participate in various meetings, seminars and activities focused on issues that impact the winemaking industry, from climate change to vineyard terroir and from production methods to winemaking culture. As it has for all previous Focus on Chardonnay events, Sonoma-Cutrer, known for producing world-class, handcrafted Chardonnay in the esteemed Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, was the ‘guest host’ of the finale reunion. The events took place at Domaine Matrot, one of the oldest estate-bottled wine producers in Burgundy, with seven other French winemakers and six California winemakers in attendance.
This year, Sonoma-Cutrer Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter focused on the brand’s acclaimed Les Pierres Vineyard, its bold movement into screwcap testing and closures, and a special tasting of three of its library wines. Other California-winemaking presentations included topics such as organic farming, vineyard comparisons and the aging process of Chardonnay. A comprehensive panel discussion around the French experience, featuring the seven French winemakers, and moderated by the noble French Philosopher of Taste Jacques Puisais, proved to be a seminar highlight. Themes of family domaines, climate change and new closure testing generated open dialogue among French and California winemakers alike, as they shared in the reflection and inspiration that exemplifies the true meaning of Focus on Chardonnay.
“I feel this incredible sense of camaraderie between all of us, in that over the course of the years of Focus on Chardonnay, we all have the same goal – producing great Chardonnay,” said Sonoma Cutrer Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter. “It’s not a competitiveness, but rather each of us respecting our own terroir, and the creation of the wines giving us a sense of place.”
The most highly anticipated portion of the Focus on Chardonnay event was the time capsule wine tasting. After 15 years locked in a temperature-controlled vault at Sonoma-Cutrer, the group of winemakers tasted the collection of storied 2000 vintages, rediscovering a past era of Chardonnay. The aging wine labels and closures told a story of time, both in visual and liquid form. Sonoma-Cutrer’s V’00 Les Pierres Chardonnay offered surprisingly delightful lemon and lime aromas balanced with the vineyard’s classic minerality, bright acidity, creamy mouthfeel and vibrant citrus fruits on the palate. Each of the wines demonstrated unique and pleasant characteristics of its respective terroir.
Sonoma-Cutrer has played an important role at each Focus on Chardonnay reunion, as it is one of the few California wine producers to practice both Old World and New World winemaking methods. Chardonnay is a resilient grape varietal grown in many regions around the world; Old World Chardonnay refers to wines that are typically produced in the classic grape-growing regions of Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, etc.) and employ meticulous, time honored and terroir-focused production techniques. New World wines are produced virtually everywhere else, often employing innovative vineyard and winemaking practices with a fruit-forward lens. A leader in premium California winemaking, Sonoma-Cutrer’s commitment to ‘Grand Cru’ methods of traditional Burgundian winemaking are paired with California innovation to provide a perspective that is unique among the world’s acclaimed wineries.
As the Moderator of Focus on Chardonnay Jacques Puisais said, “You can’t talk about the wine, the wine talks to you… the wine does not talk to your neighbor, it talks to you.”
A full list of attendees include:
- Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, Russian River Valley – 2017 ‘Guest Host’
- Ramey Wine Cellars, Russian River Valley
- Peter Michael and Morlet Family, Knights Valley, Oakville
- Grgich Hills Cellar, Napa Valley
- Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast
- Sanford, Sta. Rita Hills
- Chateau de Fuisse, Pouilly-Fuisse
- Domaine Louis Carillon et Fils, Puligny-Montrachet
- Domaine Bernard Morey, Chassagne-Montrachet
- Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet
- Pierre Morey and Morey-Blanc, Meursault
- Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Vosne-Romanee
- Domaine Daniel-Etienne Defaix, Chablis
- Domaine Matrot, Meursault – 2017 Location Host