Chardonnay: The Perfect Spring Sipper
by Susan Montgomery
As our communities start to open up again, it’s time to plan a gathering of close friends to celebrate spring and friendship. Chardonnay is the perfect wine for such a get-together because it appeals to so many palates and pairs so well with a variety of dishes. But not all Chardonnays are alike. Some are ordinary and others are exceptional.
Recently I was invited to join a delightful and informative Chardonnay Workshop (via Zoom) presented by the Center of Effort (COE) winery in Edna Valley, located south of San Luis Obispo and north of the town of Arroyo Grande on California’s Central Coast. We were fortunate to discover that this winery produces exceptional Chardonnays.
I was immediately curious about why this winery had such a unique name. I learned that the creative owners, Bill and Cheryl Swanson, named their winery for a sailing term referring to the place on a sail where all the forces come together to create a wonderful sailing experience. Similarly, the Swansons have used their talents to bring all the forces of good winemaking together to produce superb wines.
COE’s talented winemaker, Nathan Carlson, and associate winemaker, Kevin Bargetto, started the workshop by explaining so much about the winery’s process of making such outstanding wines. They emphasized that creating their high quality, estate-grown wines requires a complex interplay of climate, soil, and the fermentation process — all of which have a sustainable focus.
For instance, their grapes are grown with natural cover crops and there is minimal input of any non-natural substances in the growing and fermentation processes. Water and energy efficiency are emphasized in their vineyards. Native fermentation favors the vineyard’s natural yeasts rather than commercial yeasts.
The climate in Edna valley is heavily influenced by its proximity to the ocean and features morning fog and afternoon marine breezes, which lead to a long maturation period for the grapes, enhancing their structure and flavor. Harvesting of grapes typically takes place at night or very early in the morning so the grapes can be delivered cold, giving the winemakers control over when fermentation starts.
The winery shipped us three wonderful bottles of Chardonnay and also small jars with four unique barrel tastings. I was joined in this tasting by fellow wine reviewer, Linda Milks, who has an excellent winetasting palate, and by my husband, Todd, who is a devoted red wine fan, but he found himself completely enamored with the Center of Effort Chardonnays.
We sampled these special wines with a charcuterie tray of cheeses and meats that paired so well with the Chardonnays. Here are the wines we tasted with our reactions. (Note that we loved them all.)
2017 Effort Chardonnay:
This classic Chardonnay was aged in all the vessels. It is fruit-driven and highlighted by citrus tastes of both lemon and orange peel. It also offered a refreshing acidity with a luscious minerality as an end taste.
This is a rich, well-balanced Chardonnay, with tastes of clove, almonds, nutmeg and cinnamon and even touches of truffle. It also had citrus hints and went well with the more flavorful cheeses and salami.
We sensed that this special library wine (probably nearing the end of its best tasting peak) was influenced by fresh ocean breezes. We also tasted dried fruit, apple, and almond flavors. It has a long rich finish that lingered beautifully even after a few bites of cheese.
We were also fortunate to be able to taste barrel samples of evolving wines that had not yet been bottled. It was so interesting to taste the differences among the wines that had been aged in different kinds of barrels, including New French Oak, Neutral French Oak, Acacia Wood and Concrete Egg. For instance, the Concrete Egg sample was clean, bright and had more acid than the other samples. The Acacia barrel sample had a nice freshness with floral highlights and lovely tastes of honey and maple. The Neutral French Oak (classified as neutral after about four years) wine had flavors of vanilla and coconut. And the New French Oak sample was full of the sweetness of oak with a toasty, vanilla character. Many times the fermenting wines are moved from one kind of barrel to other barrels during the fermentation process, adding to the complex layers of tastes. This was a special treat and it will be fun to taste these wines once they are finished and bottled.
Center of Effort wines can be ordered on the COE website. But it would also be fun to visit this winery, which includes spectacular views of the Edna Valley and actually offers visitors a putting green and oyster shell Bocce ball courts. Right now wine tastings are scheduled by appointment.
Thank you to the Center of Effort for sharing these amazing wines and barrel samples with us.