The white grape variety comes from France. There are about 120 synonyms, which indicate the age and the worldwide distribution in most wine-growing countries. The most important ones, grouped alphabetically by country, are Clevner, Clävner(Alsace); Arboisier, Arnaison Blanc, Arnoison, Aubain, Aubaine, Auvergnat Blanc, Auvernat Blanc, Auxerrois, Auxois, Beaunois, Blanc de Champagne, Chardonnet, Chaudenay, Chaudent, Epinette, Epinette de Champagne Gamay Blanc, Gentil Blanc, Luisant, Melon à Queue Rouge, Melon Blanc, Melon d'Arbois, Melon d'Arlay, Morillon, Morillon Blanc, Noirien Blanc, Pinot Blanc Chardonnay, Pinot de Bourgogne, Rousseau(France); Gelber Burgunder, Klawner, Weißer Ruländer(Germany); Chardonnay Bijeli(Croatia); Obaideh(Lebanon); Wais Edler, Waiser Clevner(Moldavia); Morillon, Feinburgunder(Austria) It must not be confused with the varieties Aligoté, Auxerrois (Beaunois), Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Blanc (very similar), Sacy or Traminer (Savagnin Blanc), despite the fact that synonyms or morphological similarities seem to indicate this.
Until the end of the 19th century, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc were often confused. The ampelograph Victor Pulliat (1827-1896) had already assumed in 1868 that there were two different varieties and this was officially recognized in France in 1872 at least. In other countries they had problems much longer and the two were considered identical. In Austria they were recorded and identified together in the official lists of grape varieties until 1999. Only in 1999 DNA-analyses were carried out and finally their independence was confirmed: Chardonnay is a natural cross between Gouais Blanc x Pinot. In Austrian Styria, Chardonnay is traditionally called Morillon and is often regarded as independent. Although this vine shows slight morphological differences compared to Chardonnay, it is genetically identical.
According to one hypothesis, the variety Obaideh cultivated in Lebanon is supposed to be the ancestor, but this is obsolete due to the now clarified ancestry. Obaideh is probably a clone, but DNA analyses are still pending (as of 2013). There are three mutations of Chardonnay Chardonnay Rosé with pink berries, Chardonnay Musqué with a delicate musky tone of the wines made from it and the Melon à Cue Rouge. However, it cannot be ruled out that Chardonnay Rosé is the basic variety and that the white variety has mutated from it. Chardonnay was/is a popular crossbreeding partner of new varieties, including Chardonel, Charmont, Chasan, Cristina, Doral, Heranecot, Korai Gyöngy, Liliorila, Perdea, Perraton, Ravat Blanc, Sila, Sukholimansky Bely and Tissier Ravat.
The variety was first mentioned under Beaunois in 1583 in the department of Saône-et-Loire, but it could also have meant Aligoté. Reliable mention under Chardonnet was made in 1685, and it is said that it received its current main name after the Burgundian commune of Chardonnay(Mâconnais). The Roman Catholic orders of the Benedictines and Cistercians certainly ensured the spread of the variety throughout Europe. The early ripening vine is very fragile. It is susceptible to powdery mildew, botrytis, yellowing or flavescence dorée, trickling and small berries. The variety inherits white wines with various aromas of hazelnut, marzipan and butter, which tend to oxidize. In France, there are about 30 recognised clones (see Dijon clones), some of which vary considerably in terms of yield and susceptibility to disease.
There are also great differences or diversity in the wines. Character and taste are more dependent on soil type, climate and vinification than with other grape varieties. Methods such as malolactic fermentation, yeast settling and barrique ageing are practised much more frequently than for most white wine varieties. This versatile variety is very well suited for all types of vinification from dry to noble sweet and is equally excellent for the production of sparkling wines. It is very often vinified as a single variety, but it is also a popular blending partner, for example for Sémillon, for which the term "Semchard" has become established. This variety is a real eye-opener, as there are die-hard critics and opponents, which led to the well-known saying ABC (Anything But Chardonnay), but at least as many fans. In summary, however, one can say that Chardonnay is one of the greats of the world, the Cépages nobles.
In France the variety is immensely popular and successful. The area under cultivation has increased six-fold from 7,325 hectares in 1958 to 44,593 hectares in 2010. This makes it the second most common white grape variety after Ugni Blanc(Trebbiano Toscano). The largest quantities are in Burgundy (33%), Languedoc-Roussillon (27%) and Champagne (21%). All great Burgundy white wines are made from this grape variety. These are mainly the Côte de Beaune (southern half of the Côte d'Or) with the world-famous appellations Aloxe-Corton, Meursault and Montrachet, as well as Chablis and Mâconnais. Likewise, all champagnes pressed as "Blanc de Blancs" are produced from Chardonnay and in the champagne cuvées this is the most important grape variety besides the red varieties Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Once a year, the Chardonnay du Monde competition is held in the Burgundy municipality of Chaintré.
In Italy, a total of 19,709 hectares are planted with it. Here the variety is mainly grown in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Lombardy, Puglia and Sicily. Other countries in Europe and North Africa are Belgium, Bulgaria (2,457 ha), Germany (1,228 ha), England (235 ha), Georgia, Greece (586 ha), Israel, Croatia (668 ha), Luxembourg (16 ha), Malta, Moldavia (5,134 ha), Austria (1.431 ha), Portugal (803 ha), Romania (1,067 ha), Russia (1,981 ha), Switzerland (321 ha), Slovakia (310 ha), Slovenia (1,208 ha), Serbia, Spain (6,958 ha), Czech Republic (766 ha), Turkey (142 ha), Ukraine (2,985 ha), Hungary (2,757 ha) and Cyprus (128 ha).
California experienced a Chardonnay boom from the 1980s onwards, which continued worldwide. Here it is the most common grape variety with 38,555 hectares. Other US states with smaller quantities are Idaho, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington (3,098 hectares). Other overseas countries are Argentina (6,473 ha), Australia (27,773), Bolivia, Brazil (377 ha), Chile (13,082), China (738 ha), India, Japan (602 ha), Canada (1,178 ha), Mexico, Myanmar (1 ha), New Zealand (3,911 ha), Peru (1 ha), South Africa (8,278) and Uruguay (149 ha). The variety occupied a total of 198,793 hectares of vineyards in 2010. Compared to 1990 with 69,282 hectares at that time, this was about three times the amount. It thus occupied 5th place in the worldwide grape variety ranking.
Source: Wine Grapes / J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz / Penguin Books Ltd. 2012
Pictures: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)