It might not have been the kind of 10th anniversary the organizers had in mind, but it will still go down in the books as an International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) – because as this year’s slogan goes: “we won’t stop, we can’t stop” talking about cool climate chardonnay.
While we didn’t think it was possible that we’d get to experience one of our favourite wine events this year (it was officially canceled back in April due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety precautions), the team behind the event managed to arrange a virtual event – dubbing it the International Cool Climate Chardonnay “Connection” – with discussion panels on Friday and throughout the weekend hosted by various winemakers and industry members who all got together to make the best of it. Won’t stop and can’t stop indeed!
Even though we seemed to be missing out on the best part of the three-day world-class wine and culinary celebration event (drinking lots and lots of cool climate chardonnay), we did manage to get our fill of information out of the guest panelists that graciously accepted their invitations to take part – all in the spirit of continuing the education and awareness for anyone who cared to tune in and watch on their device.
Over the past decade, the i4C has been instrumental in raising the profile of the chardonnay grape by showcasing hundreds of exceptional cool climate chardonnays from renowned Ontario, British Columbia and International producers. These elegant and complex wines have awakened a renewed interest and appreciation for this often-misunderstood grape.
Chardonnays presented at the i4C must pass the “cool” test, meaning they must meet at least one of the following criteria: cool by coastal effect; cool by continental effect; cool by altitude; or cool by latitude.
To have this event held each year in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario is very important to our local wine industry in terms of placing Ontario on the world’s stage as a bonafide leader – not just in the cool climate chardonnay space, but also in making world-class wine in general.
Here’s a sampling of what we learned from this year’s virtual panel discussions:
“Only delicious chardonnay will do. Only delicious chardonnay survives the test of time.” – Andrew Jefford
What he means:
Chardonnay is the world’s most adaptive grape. And so, with an attribute like that comes many different styles and forms – not all of them good. Instead of thinking that cool climate chardonnay should be defined as lean and mean without much flavour fluctuation, how about just trying to make the best chardonnay possible? Cool climate chardonnay is not defined by how people think it should taste. Producers should simply try to make the ripest form based on what they have to work with in terms of their natural surroundings and all the mitigating elements that contribute to their sense of place.
“People need to be held accountable. Unless we intervene and adapt viticulture to the changing climate, yields will continue to be less and less due to climate change.” – Ian D’Agata
What he means:
There’s that buzz word again: climate change. It’s become a major talking point at every i4C since the beginning and it’s not going away. With decreases in water availability in some regions (California) and temperatures beginning to soar to unheard of levels during the summer growing season, the time is now to re-think viticulture and how to best adapt to the environmental shifts that are occurring.
“Most people like to talk the cool talk but aren’t walking the cool walk.” – Karen MacNeil
What she means:
Cool climate chardonnay is not a “style” of winemaking. “The moment you start believing that it is, you fall into a trap.” Winemakers from warmer spots should never attempt to try and style or manipulate their chardonnay to taste like “cool climate” because that is a recipe for disaster. Work with the place and the climate you’ve been given, and the wine will speak for itself. In other words, don’t force nature.
“Cool climate as a term is meaningless. Rather, it is a mosaic of place and mentality.” – Matt Kramer
What he means:
Cool climate should not be used as a marketing tool. Cool climate is based on location and its defining weather patterns relative to where that location sits in terms of latitude and its parallel to the equator.
Sound bites and impressions of Ontario-made chardonnay from all panelists, including John Szabo, Matt Kramer, Andrew Jefford, Karen MacNeil and Ian D’Agata:
“Ontario chardonnay speaks of somewhereness – that sense of place and time.”
“Chardonnay made in Ontario is undoubtedly world-class.”
“There’s distinct minerality to Ontario chardonnays.”
“Canadian chardonnay is typically much better than Italian chardonnay, despite Italian producers having put in much more time working with the grape.”
“They’re weightless, refreshing, flavourful, with lazer-like acidity.”
“They’re excellent with meals and on their own.”
“You don’t have to deal with 15% alcohol and the heat associated with high alcohol wines.”
“It’s unshowy and that’s a good thing!”
As Andrew Jefford said rather succinctly: “There can be a drinkability problem with a lot of chardonnays made outside of Burgundy but not with Ontario chardonnay. Which begs the question: what will Ontario chardonnay be like when winemakers have had a thousand years to practice it like the Burgundians have?”
We’re already looking forward to i4C 2021.