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California takes center stage at the Fifth Annual Chardonnay Symposium

Chardonnay lovers unite
Chardonnay lovers uniteThe Chardonnay Symposium

The Fifth Annual Chardonnay Symposium takes place May 16-18 in Pismo Beach at the luxurious, seaside Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa. Guests are in for an exciting glimpse into California vintners’ progress with the world’s most popular grape, and one of its most controversial.

Chardonnay has undergone a Hegelian-like identity struggle in our state. For many years we have been plagued by imbalanced, blockbuster versions: overripe, oak-bludgeoned, clumsy wines. They have had a bad rap worldwide as the antithesis of their perfectly structured, elegant role models from Burgundy, the grape’s birthplace and standard bearer.

A trade and consumer-driven revolt against said California chards on steroids is in progress, epitomized by Rajat Parr’s In Pursuit of Balance initiative, whose first event was in 2011. The movement’s mission is to promote moderate, food-friendly California chardonnays and pinot noirs (closer to French versions) that express native terroir.

In their attempt to reach a synthesis of styles, for a while many of the associated winemakers seemed to have gone overboard in the direction of austerity. Clearly, they were picking grapes so early, that the rich fruit notes for which chards are beloved never got a chance to develop. At an LA trade tasting, renowned somms secretly commiserated that some wines had such high acid, emergency dental appointments were needed to restore their tooth enamel.

The symposium’s four events will highlight the great strides we are making toward true balance in our chardonnays. A key participant, Brian Talley, owner-viticulturist at Tally Vineyards, noted today that with this year’s event, “We are expanding the scope of wines that will be represented, all the way from Santa Barbara to Napa Valley and Sonoma County, in order to give a more comprehensive look at chardonnay.”

Friday’s Grand Chardonnay Dinner kicks things off at Lido, Dolphin Bay’s oceanfront restaurant. Executive chefs, Maegen Loring and Jacob Moss, are wine lovers with significant pairing savvy. The five courses include four California wines from diverse terroirs: Edna Valley (Tolosa), Templeton (Jack Creek Cellars), Santa Rita Hills (Liquid Farm) and Napa Valley (Miner Family). The fifth is a grand cru from Chablis (Domaine Laroche), providing a basis for comparison.

The Chardonnay Seminar & Panel Session, Saturday, from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., presents: Maintaining Terroir Expression in a Changing World. Moderated by Matt Kettmann, Contributing Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, the discussion by industry experts will range from the effects of climate change on chardonnay, to the pros and cons of traditional versus interventionist winemaking techniques. Panelists, AJ Fairbanks (Hyde de Villaine), Brian Talley (Talley Vineyards), Larry Brooks (Tolosa Winery), and Chris Hammell (Bien Nacido Vineyards), will guide guests through a tasting of their wines, served with a plated lunch.

The Grand Chardonnay Tasting and Silent Auction, immediately following the seminar, features thirty producers from across California, Kumeu River Wines from New Zealand and a second appearance from Domaine Laroche. Wines will be accompanied by oysters from Morro Bay Oyster Company, delights from Lido’s chefs and Fromagerie Sophie’s cheeses.

The weekend culminates Saturday night with a Share Your Chard Party at Tolosa Winery. A celebration mimicking Burgundy’s end of harvest Paulée de Meursault, guests are asked to bring a bottle of their favorite chard to swap with fellow diners. Special bottlings from participating producers will be served with dinner. Dancing to the tunes of local band, Hayburner, completes the evening.

Plan some time during the weekend to explore the plethora of leisure activities Central Coast wine country has to offer. In addition to winery tasting room visits, enjoy beach walks, Hearst Castle tours, water sports of every description and a choice of golf courses.

For a complete list of events, tickets and lodging information, visit the symposium's website.