Ballard Canyon Chardonnay: The AVA’s Poster Child of Diversity

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C H A R D O N N A Y
Looking up and down the California Coast, the best Chardonnay vineyards are planted in cool climates, usually right up against the Pacific. Most assume Ballard Canyon lies too far inland for great Chardonnay, but all bets are off when it comes to the East-West Santa Ynez Valley maritime chute.
When Wes Hagen wrote Ballard Canyon’s Petition for our AVA, he proved that Ballard Canyon is delineated topographically from neighboring areas and contains a unique weather pattern. He made no claims that every vineyard in Ballard Canyon lies on homogenous soils. Three small plantings of Chardonnay in Ballard Canyon demonstrate the AVA’s soil diversity.

S O I L  D I F F E R E C E S
As discussed earlier this year clay soils retain moisture and the cold of our frigid Ballard Canyon nights. Plantings on clay behave like they are in cooler climates than neighboring vineyards on sand. Chardonnay currently thrives on three different clay vineyards within the AVA.

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D O H L M E Y E R
Rajat Parr buys all of the fruit from Dohlmeyer vineyard, perched on an East-facing hill near the Northern border of Ballard Canyon. Rajat sought out the oldest Chardonnay vines in the county, and he blends the Dohlmeyer grapes into his Sandhi Santa Barbara Chardonnay. To fit into Sandhi’s style, Rajat harvests the Dohlmeyer fruit very early, to ensure high acidity and low alcohol. The Dohlmeyer fruit adds flavors of apple and lemon, as well as heightened concentration, to the blend.

B E C K M E N
The next largest Chardonnay planting sits atop Beckmen La Pursima Mountain Vineyard at an elevation of 1250 feet. Steve Beckmen grafted 3 acres to Chardonnay and just bottled the varietal for the first time. Steve describes the Chardonnay as having a savory, saline quality; and notes that he picks the wine very early to make sure the acidity doesn’t drop off.

S T O L P M A N
The third planting is our little one acre section on Stolpman Vineyards. We planted the Chardonnay to complement our late ripening Roussanne. After cherry-picking the oldest blocks of Roussanne for L’Avion, we make several more passes through the vines, selecting only the ripest clusters each day. As we near the end of the two week process, the clusters that remain have lost acidity, and so we blend early-picked, racy estate Chardonnay into the wine, rather than dumping acid into the barrels. Because Sashi is interested in an acidifying component rather than flavor, we intentionally pick the Chardonnay early while it has a tangy lime zest and mineral profile.

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C O M M O N  T H R E A D
Even on the cold-retaining clay top-soils of Dohlmeyer, Beckmen, and Stolpman; the mid-day sun will quickly ripen the Chardonnay too far in Ballard Canyon. All three winemakers reiterate how important it is too catch the grapes early.
Chardonnay sits on the borderline of well-suited varietals for Ballard Canyon. The grape would certainly deliver a flabby, unbalanced product sitting on hot sand. Because of this, Chardonnay will stay on the periphery of Ballard Canyon’s Syrah focus, as both the cooler and warmer sites produce exceptional Syrah. In the meantime, the present plantings signify cooler sites.

T H E  F U T U R E
Perhaps the coldest sites in Ballard Canyon are the low elevations along Ballard Canyon Creek, where new Syrah and Grenache vineyards are coming on line this year, also in clay. We might see a few more acres of Chardonnay down there!