The Carneros Wine Alliance held a tasting of chardonnay wines last week at Domaine Carneros highlighting the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Carneros American Viticultural Area.

Why chardonnay — when pinot noir is the “hot” grape of the day and Carneros is well known for its pinot? Just for that reason.

Though chardonnay is by far America’s best-selling wine, it doesn’t get much attention – or respect.

A number of vintners at the meeting, as well as moderator and sommelier Michael Jordan, acknowledged that chardonnay is not chic among wine writers and sommeliers.

For one thing, it’s been around a long time and critics and sommeliers are always looking for something new.

The same could be said about Carneros as a region. Other areas with a similar climate like the Sonoma Coast, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Lucia Highlands and Oregon get lots of attention.

One other reason you don’t hear much about Carneros is that most of its vineyards are large and many of the grapes go to wineries outside the region. There aren’t a lot of the small estates so enamored of writers.

In addition, the excesses of many California chardonnays — excessive oak, full malolactic fermentation, residual sugar and high alcohol — led to the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement among writers and sommeliers.

Most of the 11 wines tasted avoided all of those “faults.” Only one, the ZD, reeked of oak, but it, like also popular Silver Oak cabernet, built its reputation on its strong American oak aromas. Some people do like that flavor; note the craze for new craft bourbons.

The wines poured really suggest classic white Burgundies. My favorites were the $30 2012 Schug and $55 2012 Hyde & Sons, but I’d happily drink most of the others.

One other bit of trivia from the meeting: The Jackson Family, which bought the old Buena Vista vineyards and modern winery (not the historic winery near Sonoma that Jean-Charles Boisset bought), calls its Carneros Hills wine “chardenet,” which it says is an early name for the grape.

Coalition for Free Trade winding down

The Coalition for Free Trade, which was created by vintners in 1995 to seek judicial relief from laws prohibiting direct-to-consumer shipments, has ended all activities after achieving significant victories.

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“We can celebrate a rare occasion — an industry association opened its doors for business, raised money, got the job done, then turned the lights out,” said W. Reed Foster, president of Coalition for Free Trade, and co-founder, emeritus chairman and CEO of Ravenswood Winery.

The Coalition for Free Trade was started in 1995 by Bill MacIver and John Hinman and later led by other industry leaders.

Its role solidified as the litigation arm of the industry’s “three-pronged” strategy on legal, regulated direct-to-consumer shipping: litigation, lobbying via existing organizations and the Free the Grapes! public relations campaign.

Between the founding of Coalition for Free Trade and today, the number of U.S. wineries increased from 1,820 to 8,806, records show. Dramatic changes in winery direct shipping laws provide them with new marketing options, including:

  • The number of legal winery-direct shipping states has increased to 42 starting next year; the current legal states represent 89 percent of total U.S. population, records show.
  • The model direct shipping bill is in place in most states providing a statutory framework for compliance.
  • Several states have removed felony provisions as well as cumbersome provisions like vintner background checks.

‘Bottle Talk With Rick and Paul’

Writers Rick Kushman and Paul Wagner have launched “Bottle Talk With Rick and Paul” at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays on KVON 1440AM after starting the program online in September. It continues online at RickAndPaulWine.com.

The radio show aims to break new ground in conversations about wine, and includes questions from listeners, interviews, wine recommendations and an all-out assault on wine snobs everywhere.

UC Davis winter wine courses

UC Davis Extension has announced its next courses for novice and experienced grapegrowers, winemakers and wine lovers.

The courses will take place from January to March, mostly in Davis, though one is online.

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