Three California Chardonnay legends took the stage Saturday morning at the 2022 New York Wine Experience, kicking off a remarkable lineup of seminars. Wine Spectator senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec referred to the three veteran winemakers—Mark Aubert, Paul Hobbs and David Ramey—as “the Mount Rushmore of Chardonnay.”
Aubert, Hobbs and Ramey each brought two vintages of a single-vineyard Sonoma Chardonnay; the six wines only reinforced the trio’s reputations (learn more in our “Legends of Chardonnay” issue) and affirmed the significant influence they’ve wielded over America’s most popular white wine. “California Chardonnay is having a Golden Age. The wines are better than ever,” Worobeic said. (See her “Talent Show” tasting report in the July 31, 2022, issue.) “[There’s a greater] balance between power and elegance than ever before.”
The winemaking veterans looked back on their decades of experience and the evolution of Golden State Chardonnay during that time. The winemaking process in the eighties was “quite brutal,” Hobbs recalled. Ramey agreed: “We just beat the crap out of those grapes. It was industrial processing at its worst.”
Things have changed. Winemaking and aging techniques improved, and California Chardonnays have evolved into more delicately structured and graceful, ageworthy wines.
Illustrating that point, Hobbs showcased his Sonoma Mountain Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay, pouring the 2019 (93 points, $85) and 2014 (91, $80) vintages. Hobbs has been sourcing fruit from this small, hillside vineyard since founding his namesake winery in 1991. “[I’m looking for] texture, tension and minerality,” he said.
“Some measure of freshness and liveliness is important in white wine, and I think that's what you're seeing out of California these days,” replied Ramey, who had brought his Westside Farms Chardonnays from the 2019 (94, $75) and 2015 (93, $65) vintages. Westside Farms is a low-lying vineyard along the bank of the Russian River, where cool morning fogs help grapes retain their natural freshness and acidity.
Aubert compared his 2018 Sonoma Coast Lauren Chardonnay (95, $115) with the 2011 Lauren (92, $90). The older wine’s color remains remarkably bright and youthful after more than a decade, as do the flavors and textures familiar to fans of Aubert’s wines. (Wine Experience regulars also recalled tasting the 2014 Lauren at the 2018 Wine Experience.) “I’m quite the hedonist,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in picking the fruit when it tastes like candy.”