Chardonnay is seen as a rite of passage for developing wine regions; the simplest way for a new locale to make itself known to the world. And it’s for this very reason that chardonnay was initially planted in New World regions such as Australia. But as our winemaking pedigree has evolved, so too have our chardonnays.
It’s a surprise for many to learn that as a grape, chardonnay is actually very neutral; it doesn’t have much inherent flavour at all. Its depth and complexity comes predominantly from external sources, such as terroir (the effect of the soil on the vines) and the barrels in which the wine is stored. It can be thought of as a blank canvas onto which a winemaker can paint whatever they choose.
It’s the most widely distributed variety of all, found in almost every wine growing region in the world. And it’s this combination of regional diversity and natural neutrality makes chardonnay such a truly unique and exciting varietal.
Of Croatian extraction
Until the introduction of modern DNA profiling the origins of chardonnay were a mystery. Lineages from Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus were argued, parallels were drawn between pinot blanc and muscat, and many vintners told stories of cuttings returning from the battlefields of the crusades.
The DNA evidence told a different story, however. Chardonnay, as it turned out, was a cross between French Pinot Noir and a little known Croatian grape gouais blanc, imported to Eastern France by the Romans.
An Australian love affair
Chardonnay, like many of Australia’s most famed varieties, landed on southern shores in the company of famed winemaking pioneer James Busby in 1832. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that the grape began to come into its own. From experimental wines made in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. These beginnings - comparatively early when compared to the rest of the world – meant that Australian chardonnays were established enough to capitalise handsomely on the global chardonnay boom of the 80s and 90s.
During this time Australian chardonnays garnered global praise for their mix of commanding fruit notes and easy drinkability. During the boom the amount of chardonnay vines planted in Australia increased five-fold, and it remains our second most planted variety after only shiraz.