Would you enjoy drinking Chardonnay for two days? If your answer is “yes,” The Chardonnay Symposium should be on your calendar for May 12 to 14, 2016. Just a couple of weeks have passed since we participated in the 2015 gathering of the top Chardonnay producers from around the world at Pismo Beach and Avila Beach. It was a fabulous, multi-layered experience of sipping, tasting, listening and learning integrated with time to speak with winemakers, sommeliers, chefs and industry leaders. All of this was achieved through two grand tastings, seminars and winemaker lunches and dinners.
Our adventure began Friday morning with a seminar at Pismo Beach. It was held at the delightful SeaVenture Beach Hotel & Restaurant, located directly on the wide expanse of sand for which Pismo is known. We could see the fog lurking out the window……
as we watched the preparations which, of course, involved filling a multitude of wine glasses.
We were looking forward to the seminar called “Wisconsin Cheese Complements Acclaimed Chardonnay.” Wisconsin is the neighbor of my home state of Michigan so I was eager to taste some cheeses not readily available in California. With the wine and cheese in place, we were ready to begin.
The moderator was Laura Werlin, a James Beard award-winning author of six books on the subject of cheese. A well-known speaker and educator, she has appeared on shows from Martha Stewart and Fox and Friends to writing for Food & Wine, Saveur and Cooking Light.
The panel consisted of four impressive names from the world of wine. First was Greg Brewer, co-founder of Brewer Clifton Winery and winemaker at Melville Winery. He looked the part of a jaunty French professor, a role he actually played at the University of California Santa Barbara, before grapes entered his life. I understand he was also a competitive cyclist. Greg discussed the location of Melville Winery and its diatomaceous earth and the wind and their impact on the wine. A saline quality and “decadent citrus” could be found the Melville Estate 2005 Chardonnay he poured.
To Laura’s right was New York transplant, Jeremy Weintraub. He has been the winemaker at Adelaida Vineyard since 2012. Jeremy deals with a microclimate that can swing 40 to 50 degrees in a day. The vineyard is at 1600 feet and 14 miles from the ocean. The well-balanced, 2013 Chardonnay came from a vineyard planted in 2008. With a limestone soil it gave a “vibrancy in the mouth” to the wine.
To her left was Lawrence Lohr, of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines. He is the youngest son of Jerry Lohr and serves as Director of Education and Vineyard Operations for this extensive winery. The J. Lohr Winery has 41,000 acres spread over four appellations. Today he was pouring a 2013 Arroyo Vista Chardonnay from Monterey County. This hand harvested wine came from a cool, wind swept climate with sandy loam soil. It is always fascinating to learn what some of the wine people do in their spare time. We found Lawrence has been singing 50’s and 60’s do-wop for over twenty years in addition to involvement in the performing arts and youth education.
Last on the panel was Anne Moses, enologist, and one of four founding partners of Patz & Hall. The other three are Donald Patz, James Hall and Heather Patz. Anne is currently in charge of marketing and sales. Her 2012 Chardonnay came from the Hyde Vineyard and the Wente Clone.
An enticing plate of eight cheeses was calling to us, each selected by Laura for a specific wine. As directed by Laura, we were able to back-track and experiment with other pairings. The results were both positive and negative, but also gave us a better understanding of why we developed each response to what we had tasted. Beginning at the 12:00 position, we began sipping and tasting our cheese and wine.
The first was La Clare Farm in Malone, Wisconsin. La Clare Farm has herd of 375 goats which they milk daily. Their “Martone” was a pasteurized goat and cow blend. It was an ash covered with a soft taste as we began, but left us with a nice tangy finish.
The next cheese was an unpasteurized sheep and cow blend called “Meadow Melody.” Brenda Jensen produces it at Hidden Springs Creamery, her farm, in Westby, Wisconsin. Westby is in southwest, Amish area known as the “Driftless Region” due to the lack of excavation by the glaciers. Instead, a rolling landscape makes it perfect for grazing the 500 plus East Friesian and Lacaunes sheep.
Landmark Creamery began full-time cheese making in 2013 when the two Annas, Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates, joined forces. The “Tallgrass Reserve” was made from pasteurized cow’s milk. The pasture grazed cows produce the golden color and, according to Laura, makes the wine more succulent.
Our fourth cheese was from the Carr Valley Creamery in La Valle, Wisconsin. This was a pasteurized cow, goat and sheep blend. The “Menage” was full of butter cream nuttiness.
From Monroe, Wisconsin, the Roth Cheese “Grand Cru Reserve” was an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese. Full of brown butter flavor, it is the only Gruyère like cheese made in the United States.
Sartori Cheese, Antigo, Wisconsin, brought us the award-winning “BellaVitano Gold.” From pasteurized cow’s milk this was very much like the Italian parmesan. The nutty flavor with a hint of fruit was truly delightful.
Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheese has no web-site, but they live in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. The cloth wrapped cheese was made in the traditional English style with pasteurized cow’s milk. It was then aged one to two years in a hillside cave.
Our last, “Dunbarton Blue,” came from the Roelli Cheese Haus in Schullsberg, Wisconsin. The fourth generation of cheese makers, Chris Roelli, is a master cheesemaker. The blue taste of the cellar cured Dunbarton was very subtle. It was made with pasteurized cow’s milk and aged 90 days.
All of the cheeses had paired well with one or more of the wines. Our minds did not spend one minute wandering as we were intrigued by the lively discussion and attempted to absorb information to use in our own home entertaining situations. Laura and the panelists had a quick back and forth with one another and, at times, filled the room with laughter.
Certainly there was still a wealth we could learn from Laura’s books. But, in the meantime, we had discovered a number of new tidbits. The fact that it is the lack of tannins in white wine which makes it more friendly with cheese. When we are pairing wine with cheese, we should taste the wine first. She feels she needs to “calibrate” or “settle” the palate before beginning to taste. She lets the cheese talk to her and, at times, it talks back. (I do not think I have yet been able to have this cheese dialog, but I will certainly continue to try.) Interested in the fifth taste? Cheddar is high in umami. Triple cream cheese should be paired with bubbly wine or champagne.
For a bit of practical advice we learned the proper way to store cheese. It should be wrapped first in wax paper or parchment and then in plastic wrap. Do not wrap cheese directly with plastic wrap.
We were full of new tastes and knowledge. The fog was still hanging over the sea, but the sun was beginning to shine on the few children and beach walkers who were interested in enjoying the cool sea breeze. Maybe we should join them and walk off some cheese before the grand tasting slated to begin in ninety minutes.
Adelida Vineyard; Carr Valley Creamery; Hidden Springs Creamery; J. Lohr; La Clare Farm; Landmark Creamery; Laura Werlin; Melville Winery; Patz & Hall; Roelli Cheese Haus; Roth Cheese; Sartori Cheese; SeaVenture Beach Hotel & Restaurant; The Chardonnay Symposium;