by Fred McMillin
for March 11, 1998

A Chardonnay Mystery


There is little substantive evidence that Chardonnay vines were brought to California before the early 20th century.

..."California's Great Chardonnays" by James Laube

The Rest of the Story  

So when did America's most popular white wine grape arrive in the Golden State...1880s?...1890s? There should be records. After all, we're not talking about the Stone Age. We DO know that in 1893 Charles William Post, 38, introduced Postum...in 1894 Escoffier created Peach Melba... in 1898 Will Keith Kellogg and brother J.H. created something new, a COLD breakfast food called Corn Flakes.

Then, what do my old wine books tell us about California Chardonnay in the 1890s? Ah-hah! Here's one from 1896: "In the Napa Valley the White Burgundy, or Chardenot [sic], the celebrated white wine grape of Burgundy...is uniformly healthy and productive; berries are very delicate, sweet and juicy"...by the American viticultural pioneer Prof. George Husmann.

My quest prompted wine historian Charles L. Sullivan to dig even deeper. He found that ten years earlier Napa vintner H.W. Crabb made a Chardonnay and showed it at the 1887 San Francisco Viticultural Convention.That may have been California's oldest Chardonnay. Now, let's turn to one of the newest, Daniel Lawrence Cellars 1996. It is the creation of a father-son team, Daniel and Lawrence (the father) Horsch. Dad teaches university MBA courses and son has two decades of California winery experience. Here's one of their new releases.

The Wine

1996 Reserve Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Daniel Lawrence Cellars, Graton, Sonoma County, CA.
100% Chardonnay
French and American oak aging
Tasting Notes—No extremes; a gentle Chardonnay which supported rather than dominated my sea bass. I'm keeping an eye on this savvy team.
Contact—Dan Horsch, (800) 204-2640
Price—$15 range


Since this is a Santa Cruz Chardonnay, who first brought that vine to the area? He was an accountant at the Almaden Winery, married the boss' daughter, started his own winery, and imported Chardonnay vines. The year was 1896 and the groom was Paul Masson.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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