I have applauded the efforts of Byron Dooley of Seven of Hearts previously, including both his white wines and Pinot Noir. I will continue to do so because I believe he is making a quality product at a significantly valuable price, that balance a high level of Old and New World conventions, and his Seven of Hearts Chardonnay is a prime example.
Recently I had the opportunity to taste four vintages of Willamette Valley Chardonnay with Byron, including 2006, 2008, 2009 and the newest 2010 barrel samples. Byron is incredibly passionate about Oregon Chardonnay as a white wine. While he has introduced others to his portfolio, his belief remains that Chardonnay should be the white grape variety for Oregon, playing a counter to the red Pinot Noir as it does in Burgundy, France. Given the wines tasted, I can get behind his cause.
2006 Seven of Hearts Chardonnay, Willamette Valley AVA
Clear, medium-pale golden color. Clean on the nose with sweet and savory aromas of pineapple tart, caramelized sugar, cooked tropical fruit, baked peaches, and cream. Dry on the palate, medium acidity, medium body, creamy texture, flavors of vanilla, peaches, tropical fruits, and cooked yellow apple.
2008 Seven of Hearts Chardonnay, Elvenglade Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA
Clear, medium pale golden color. Clean on the nose with aromas of soft apple, vanilla, lemon, sea salt, and granite. Dry on the palate, medium acidity, medium body, flavors of sweet yellow apple, candied lime, and orange blossom. Medium-long finish.
2009 Seven of Hearts Chardonnay, Crawford-Beck Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA
Clear, medium-pale golden yellow color. Clean on the nose with aromas of pear, yellow apple, tropical fruit, and sweet pea. Dry on the palate, medium-high acidity, medium body, flavors of yellow and green apple, apricot, and oranges. Great texture; long finish.
2010 Seven of Hearts Chardonnay, Barrel Sample Willamette Valley AVA
Four clones are being used for the newest Chardonnay: 76, 95, 96, and Espiguette. The two barrel samples that Byron shared used two clones each, and will eventually be blended together to create the final product. The 96/76 barrel was bright golden in color, redolent with fresh fruity aromas (lime, pear, yellow apple), and bright acidity. The second barrel, 95/Espiguette, was bright gold in color as well with more savory complexities on the nose (a creaminess almost), and intense flavors of green apple skin and lemon rind. Blending is further down the line, but tasting these gives an idea of how components of each will compliment each other.
Having mentioned France, and being a fairly staunch voice against piggybacking on other established regions, I feel a bit of clarification is necessary. Byron does not tout the Seven of Hearts Chardonnay or other wines as being like those of well known Old World regions like Chablis or Montrachet. Instead he looks to those regions for production guidance. His techniques—barrel regimens, stirring, and effectively lack of treatment including minimal handling, native yeast fermentations, lack of additives—are Old World but his wines are 100% Oregon. I really appreciate the context this gives to consumers, whether they are old hat in the wine biz, or unseasoned wine tasting greenhorns.
Byron epitomizes innovation and New World freedom of expression while maintaining appreciation and respect for Old World tradition.
Future articles will explore other white wines from Seven of Hearts, mirroring other classic whites grown and produced in France.