Hazelfern Cellars is Turning Me into a Chardonnay Drinker

I’m writing this post while I sip on Chardonnay.

You read that right. I’m not drinking a Pinot Noir, or even a red wine, I opened up a Chardonnay. The 2018 Little Hells Chardonnay from Hazelfern Cellars, to be exact. I may have to rebrand… Chardonnay and Shotguns? I kinda like the sound of that!

Hazelfern has consistently been at the top of my “wineries to visit” list and I’ve been swooning over their website and Instagram page for what feels like years now. I could not have been more excited when my pal AJ organized a visit there for a few friends when the tasting room opened back up!

I’ve heard incredible things about all of Hazelfern’s wines, but it seems that no one can stop talking about their Chardonnay. I shared with friends on a Zoom wine meet up several weeks ago that I don’t typically drink Chardonnay. In fact, I pretty much wouldn’t touch Chardonnay until I moved to Oregon and discovered that Oregon Chardonnay is nothing like California Chardonnay – it’s a whole different ballgame.

These days, I’ll enjoy Chardonnay in a tasting lineup but it’s not typically something I will buy or open up at home. I’ve repeatedly been told by wino friends that Hazelfern’s Chardonnay would completely change the way I think about Chardonnay and that I needed to give it a try ASAP. If Oregon Chardonnay is a different ballgame, Hazelfern Chardonnay is in an entirely different league.

My goodness, I sure do miss baseball… please excuse the sports analogies!

But back to Hazelfern. Before I tell you more about what makes their Chardonnay so special, let me first tell you a bit about the winery.

Hazelfern Cellars is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Laura (the General Manager) and Bryan (the winemaker). Have I mentioned how much I love family-run wineries?! Why, yes… I did in this post, but I’ll say it again: I just LOVE family-fun wineries, and Hazelfern is no exception. Bryan and Laura have an incredible story. They tell it much better than I ever could, so make sure to get over there for a visit! Here’s the nutshell version: They started making wine in their basement in 2006 as a hobby and to share wine with family and friends. After a family member died tragically in 2014, they decided life was too short to not be doing what they love full time. They quit their corporate jobs to focus 100% of their efforts on wine. Today, Hazelfern’s winery, tasting and barrel rooms coexist in the barn of my dreams nestled in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.

So, what makes Hazelfern’s Chardonnay so special?

Byran employs a unique Chardonnay-making style referred to as Black Chardonnay. Once popular in Burgundy, France many years ago, Black Chardonnay seems to be a somewhat of a forgotten style (although, it’s starting to make a comeback). Typically, Chardonnay is made by gently pressing Chardonnay grapes just enough to extract the juice and minimizing oxygenation as much as possible throughout the winemaking process. Black Chardonnay is quite the opposite – whole clusters are vigorously pressed together and it is introduced to oxygen as much as possible. Bryan then allows it to naturally ferment in barrel.

The result is a powerful, structured Chardonnay with tannins. Yes, tannins! I was always under the impression that white wine doesn’t have tannins, as tannins come from grape skins, seeds, and stems – things that typically don’t come into play with white wine since only the juice is used in the wine making process. But I was wrong! Due to the vigorous pressing in the Black Chardonnay method, tannins are extracted from the stems and seeds and some tannins are also picked up from the oak barrels.

If I had done a blind tasting of Hazelfern’s Chardonnays, I’m not sure I would have guessed that I was drinking a white wine. The structure and the mouthfeel caught me by surprise and is not something I’m accustomed to in a white wine. Hazelfern’s Chardonnay is something I can sip on in the same way I sip on a Pinot Noir, like I am right now. I haven’t had a chance to enjoy this one with food yet, but I’m sure it will be fantastic alongside a meal as well. My friends were right! This one completely changed my perspective on Chardonnay.

It wasn’t only the Chardonnay that blew me away – the rest of the tasting lineup was incredible, and their Pinots are to die for as well. Here’s a look at what we tasted:

2018 Stormy Morning Vineyard Pinot Noir
This fruit comes from the Stormy Morning Vineyard, now a part of the newly formed Tualatin Hills AVA. This vineyard is considered a coastal vineyard, with the fog line landing in the middle of the 250-500 foot elevation slope. This is Hazelfern’s lightest and most elegant Pinot Noir, with notes of delicate red and stone fruits, forest floor, and eucalyptus.

2018 Ana Vineyard Pinot Noir
Ana Vinyard is a special site – one of the oldest vineyards in the Dundee Hills, planted in the 1970s. This Pinot is classic Oregon with bright red strawberries and cherries, baking spices, and mineral accents. I was surprised by the hint of saltiness of this one! Delicious.

2017 Prime Cut Pinot Noir
Hazelfern’s Prime Cut wines are the best barrels of the vintage selected for specific qualities. It’s what other wineries may call their “reserve”. We got to taste the 2017 and 2018 vintages side-by-side! The 2017, from the Ana Vineyard, boasted red and black fruits, a hint of citrus, and a long, silky finish.

2018 Prime Cut Pinot Noir
The 2018 Prime Cut came from a blend of three different vineyards. While still a bit young, this one was fabulous. 2018 was a warmer year and it sure showed with cheery red fruits on the nose and palate. I can’t wait to see how this one will age! I guess that means I’ll need to go back and buy some!

2018 Robinson Family Vineyard Pinot Noir
Unlike the first three Pinots we tried, this one is from marine sedimentary soil and is 100% Pommard. This is the biggest, boldest Pinot on the lineup with black cherry, baking spices and toasted nuts lingering on the palate long after the wine is gone. I just love Pommard!

2018 Little Hells Chardonnay
This is the one I’m drinking right now. The fruit comes from Little Hells Canyon in the Chehalem Mountains. Tangy apple, pear, and lemon, savory toast and spice notes, and a touch of minerality with a long finish.

2018 Stormy Morning Vineyard Chardonnay
Fruit from the Stormy Morning Vineyard makes Hazelfern’s most delicate Pinot Noir, but the most powerful Chardonnay. This one is bursting with tropical fruit and dances the line between bright and intense.

2018 Prime Cut Chardonnay
This was divine. So divine that I completely failed to take notes, which seems to have been a common phenomenon amongst the group. At this point in the tasting, we were all having such a good time – they don’t call it the Chardy Party for nothin!

2015 Walla Walla Tempranillo
To wrap up our tasting, Bryan poured us a little special treat. This Tempranillo was the first wine he made in the barn. It spent three years in barrel and one year in bottle, and let me tell ya… it was awesome. I love me a Tempranillo, especially an Oregon one. This fruit fruit came from the Walla Walla AVA – as in Walla Walla, Washington – but there is a portion of that AVA that is actually in Oregon. This fruit comes from the Oregon side of the Walla Walla AVA, so it’s an Oregon Tempranillo through and through.

I didn’t want to leave Hazelfern, and it seems that no one else did either. We lingered for quite some time chatting and finishing up our purchases before we slowly made our way to the parking lot. I ended up going home with a bottle of the 2018 Stormy Morning Pinot Noir, 2015 Walla Walla Tempranillo, and the 2018 Little Hells Chardonnay.

I am almost ashamed to admit that I’ve already opened up and/or finished all three bottles that I brought home. I guess this just means that I’ll have to head back to Hazelfern Cellars for another visit!

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