We have just planted a few acres of chardonnay grapes at the Maan Farms vineyard in Abbotsford British Columbia Canada. The Fraser Valley is one of the coldest climates in the world that still grows chardonnay grapes. It will take a few years before our grape vines mature and we can harvest enough grapes to launch a chardonnay.
Below is a look at the different aspects of growing chardonnay in cold climates.
What is Chardonnay?
Chardonnay is a very popular green-skinned grape varietal and white wine style. The chardonnay grape is fairly neutral. However, due to its versatility, chardonnay can produce many different styles of wine depending on the “terroir” (environmental growing conditions). Choices made by the winemaker (but most importantly the assistant winemaker) can also affect the flavour profile. Chardonnays can be light and crisp with a mineral quality to acidic with fruity notes such as green apple, and pear. Chardonnays grown in warmer climates tend to be fuller in body and take on more tropical fruit characters.
Oaked and unoaked chardonnays are made widely across the world. Oaked chardonnays can have a creamy butter-like taste from a malolactic bacteria that ferments the malolactic acid (tastes like apples) into softer lactic acid, which is also found in dairy (buttery taste). Not all chardonnays are buttery, but if you taste a buttery white wine there is a very high chance it is a chardonnay.
What is a Cool Climate Chardonnay?
Chardonnay is grown in cool climates in both the old and new worlds. When grown in colder regions, Chardonnays tend to have more acidity, citrus flavors, mineral characters, and are lighter in body and alcohol.
World’s Cold Climate Chardonnay Growing Regions
Old World: Burgundy (France), Champagne (France), Germany, and Northern Italy.
New World: The Fraser Valley and Okanagan in British Columbia, Ontario, Washington, Oregon, California, and New Zealand.
The World’s Warm Climate Chardonnay Growing Regions
Most the chardonnays grown in warmer regions tend to be in new world wine regions such as California, South Australia, and South Africa. There are a few notable old world chardonnays regions such as Spain and Southern Italy.
Challenges of Growing Wine Grapes in Cold Climates
Cold climates’ shorter growing season generally makes growing wine grapes challenging and chardonnay grapes are no exception. It is challenging for the grapes to mature before the cold and wet winters. Cold and rainy conditions allow mold to soil the grapes. Prior to harvesting the grapes, the vineyard manager and winemaker must wait for the natural fermentable sugars (called brix in winemaking) to increase and for the acidity to drop. The harvest date is determined by these parameters, the forecasted weather, and labour availability.
The shorter summers in cooler regions make for a difficult choice when deciding the grapes are a perfect balance between grape maturity and weather. You must find the perfect balance between grape maturity and weather conditions. The shorter summers in cooler regions makes this decision more difficult.
makes the choice of when to harvest more of a compromise between maturity and the coming winter weather.
Food Pairing for Cool Region Chardonnays
Because of the wide range of flavours, Chardonnay pairs well with most foods, but not all chardonnays pair well with all food. Below are some chardonnay food pairing guidelines and examples:
- Pair a buttery chardonnay with mildly (not too rich) creamy dishes such as non spicy butter chicken.
- Pair a zesty citrus chardonnay with fish such as salmon, halibut, or cod.
- Pair an oaked chardonnay with BBQed white meats like chicken or pork or BBQ salmon.
- Pair a crisp chardonnay with butter and herb baked fish or chicken.
- Serve your chardonnay slightly chilled but not fridge temperature.