A celebration of America's most popular wine, the Chardonnay Symposium, which is held Friday, July 19 through Sunday, July 21 in Santa Maria, makes it so that attendees -- about 500 are expected -- can not only drink what feels like a barrel of Chardonnay but also actually learn something new about the popular varietal.
The weekend event begins with a tribute dinner to Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen, one of the most astute Chardonnay winemakers and vintners out there, at the historic 1857-built Bien Nacido adobe in the midst of the Bien Nacido Vineyards. Reason enough to go. Turn the page for five more reasons to check out one of Southern California's most exceptional wine events.
5. Expanded wine knowledge:
"Bring in the Clones!" No it's not a summer sci-fi blockbuster. The Chardonnay Symposium's Saturday morning panel should be lively, amusing and perhaps a bit contentious, as winemakers politely discuss the use of clonal selections when growing Chardonnay grapes and break down the complex issue, guided by moderator and wine writer Steve Heimoff. No winemaker is without a philosophy, culled from both experience and personal preference. Wine geeks can't get enough of these discussions; others will appreciate the multiple wine pours that accompany the information-filled session. Participants include Karl D. Wente -- fifth-generation winemaker from the U.S.'s oldest continuously owned and operated family winery Wente Vineyards in Livermore Valley -- Fintan du Fresne, winemaker at Chamisal Vineyards in the Edna Valley, and Clarissa Nagy of Riverbench Vineyard & Winery (the winery's new tasting room recently opened in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone).
4. Wine country scenery:
Saturday's outdoor grand tasting at Byron Winery is in the heart of Santa Maria's picture-perfect, rural wine country. Set on the windswept Santa Maria Bench, Byron overlooks acres of rows of green vines that play off against the now brown hillsides. When the weather is fine, it's about as perfect place to hang out, drink wine, and take in the region's unique topography and climate where the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean (approximately 20 miles away), morning fog and warm days foster an ideal environment for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.