Chardonnay marks 100th birthday of growth in U.S.

Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:56pm EST
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chardonnay, the world's most popular white wine, dates back centuries, but it owes much of its history in the United States to a winemaker who planted the grape in California 100 years ago.

Ernest Wente, of the family-owned Wente Vineyards east of San Francisco, brought cuttings from Montpelier, France in 1912 and planted them in California.

Now, although worldwide there are 34 clones of Chardonnay, most of the Chardonnay produced in California is from the Wente clone.

"Nobody really thought about the great white grape of Burgundy being planted here," said Carolyn Wente, a fourth generation member of the family who heads the winery that was established in 1883.

"Now 75 percent of all the Chardonnay planted in California is Clone 4 -- the Wente Clone," she added.

Chardonnay has proven to be a big success for winemakers in Northern California. Up and down the California coast, wineries such as Jordan, La Crema and Matanzas Creek in Sonoma, Parducci in Mendocino and Ortman Family Wines in Paso Robles grow the Wente clone in their vineyards.

Randy Ullom, of Kendall-Jackson wines in Healdsburg, California described it as "the workhorse of Chardonnay. It's everywhere," he said.

Corey Beck, the winemaker for Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California, agrees.   Continued...

<p>Chardonnay grapes are seen on a cart in a vineyard during a harvest in Klosterneuburg, the neighbouring city north of Vienna October 11, 2009. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader</p>