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Vignoles, a white grape also known as Ravat 51
Characterizing Chardonnay
Hudson Valley GrapesChardonnay is the noble grape variety that originally hails from Burgundy, France. It is believed by some to be an accidental or intentional hybrid that was propagated by local Burgundian growers, and is a cross of a Pinot Noir clone and the bulk wine/table grape known as Gouais. Chardonnay is very similar to the versatile white wine grape Seyval Blanc, the French-American hybrid that is also grown widely in the Hudson Valley.

Of all the viniferas, Chardonnay is probably the easiest to grow, in that it is tolerant of most soil types and is a mid-season variety that ripens early. A moderately productive grape with medium-sized clusters, Chardonnay is just as reliable a producer in good, warm and dry years as it is in the more challenging years that are cold and damp. In most seasons Chardonnay can produce adequate sugars so that quality does not widely vary from year to year.

Along with Riesling, Chardonnay is probably the most winter-hardy of the white viniferas, for the Hudson Valley. Unlike Riesling, which ripens late to very late in the fall (around middle of October), Chardonnay ripens much earlieraround the third week of September. Its relatively early ripening time helps it to avoid the autumn rains which inevitably come, bringing a host of fungus problems to the growers harvest experience. And, if the season is cool and the grapes are ripening later than usual, there is always time for Chardonnay to ripen properly before the first fall frost.

In the cellar, Chardonnays handle themselves with good balance, sufficient sugars, and nice flavors that are not too weak or overbearing. Thus, they are very versatile. They can be made into sparkling wines; big, fat, buttery wines full of vanilla; austere, flinty wines of great intellect; or easy-drinking table wines for afterwork consumption.

Chardonnays produced in the Hudson Valley can be made like the French Chablis-style wines that are steely, crisp, lean, flinty and acidic with fruits of green apples, lemons, and grapefruit. The Hudson Valley has the perfect climate and soils to make these leaner style Chardonnays and sparkling wines. They can also be like a subdued version of those big, California-style round and oaky wines, with rich textures and intense aromas and flavors of butter, vanilla, melons, pears, tropical fruits, old bananas, and nuts, like almonds and hazelnuts. Or, they can be made into barrel-fermented, aged sur lies layered wines that are yeasty, warm and creamy, and brightly flavored with elements of ripe apples, melons, pears, soft lemons, and vanilla. Naturally, because of the great range of wines that can be made from Chardonnay, it is a popular wine that is generally liked by the general public.

Just as the types of wine made are wide and varied, so are the colors of Chardonnay wines. They range from pale light-yellow and pale green-yellow to straw and light gold colors.

It is my hope that more Chardonnay can be grown in the Hudson Valley. There are different clones of Chardonnay that can be utilized based on the vineyard site and types of wines to be produced. The time is right for the Valleys winemakers to begin to create their own unique contribution to the development of new Chardonnay styles, or to augment already existing ones.
Deciphering DeChaunac

DeChaunac is a reliable and productive red French- American hybrid grape that is widely grown in the Hudson Valley. It was bred by the prominent French grape hybridizer Albert Seibel (1844-1935) probably sometime before 1925. DeChaunac has one of the same parents as two other widely grown French- American hybrid grapes Chancellor and Chelois.

The grape was named in 1970 in honor of Adhemar F. DeChaunac (18961972) of Brights Winery, Niagara Falls, Ontario, who was responsible for the winerys grape and wine research program. The DeChaunac grape, while grown on a small scale in France before 1939, was from 1975 to 1990, one of the top red grape varieties in acreage grown in New York and on the Niagara Peninsula in Canada.

This vigorous-growing variety ripens by the middle of September. It is hardy to very hardy in withstanding winter damage in all parts of the Hudson Valley. The cylindrical mediumlarge to large grape cluster is loose to semi-loose.

Wines produced from DeChaunac can be very inky in color. However, it has a surprisingly light to medium body for such a deeply colored red wine. DeChaunac is distinctly grassy with varietal flavors of leather, cinnamon and soft chocolate. It can also be made into fruity, dry or semi-dry ros wines. Since DeChaunac oxidizes and turns brown more rapidly than many other hybrid grapes, ross made from this easily-browning grape should be consumed early.

One positive attribute of DeChaunacs early browning is that it blends well with other varieties when making dessert wines such as cream sherries or tawny ports. DeChaunac added to these dessert wine blends hastens the browning process of such sherries and ports. Furthermore, it gives these wines the mouth feel and appearance of being much older and mustier than their age would otherwise indicate. The same is true of DeChaunacs used in Hudson Valley red blends it can soften bigger wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chancellor, making them more approachable, with a look and mouth feel of much older, more developed wines.

If made properly, DeChaunac can have complex fruit flavors and a solid underlying structure that has elements of soft red cherries, cooked mulberries, prunes, blackberries, and cinnamon. Its dark flavors can be made into wines that are appealingly musty with an earthy, mushroom-like flavor profile and cigar-box nose and taste from the front to the finish and can remind one of a Sandeman Port.

However, DeChaunac can also easily become flat wines that taste like burnt sugar, burnt toast, or sometimes like old, rubber tires with pronounced cinnamon and green bean flavors with a metallic finish. Its tendency to produce the pronounced grassy flavors, however, can be transformed over time to more appealing mellow mint flavors.

Barrel-aging DeChaunac greatly enhances its balance and smooths out its rough edges. It can also help to meld the wine into an interesting and more unified flavor profile. When properly made with the requisite wood aging, these wines can hold for up to five or seven years. Unfortunately, the fruit flavors of DeChaunac can be muted when young and may not grow and develop as the wine ages, so it is best to drink big De- Chaunacs within three to six years.

The overplanting of DeChaunac in the 1970s forced many winemakers in the east to learn how to make DeChaunac into alternative wines such as sparkling wines, ros, nouveaux, blush wines or ports. For this reason many talented winemakers in the Hudson Valley have learned to produce interesting wines that are not in the standard DeChaunac mold. This year is a perfect time to try a few and compare them for yourself.

Articles are adapted from the forthcoming book Grapes of the Hudson Valley by J. Stephen Casscles. In future issues of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine, well continue to feature additional excerpts from this definitive work on regional varietals culled from decades of the authors tasting notes and personal experience. PHOTO: Randall Tagg Photography .


Hudson Valley Wine magazine Summer 2014 issue

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