Get to Know Chardonel, Chardonnay’s Hybrid Grape | Wine Enthusiast
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Hardy, Crisp and Rich: Meet Chardonnay’s Hybrid Grape, Chardonel

A silky, lush body with zippy acidity—Chardonel has the best of both worlds. As the name suggests, one of its parent grapes is the mighty Chardonnay, crossed with the hybrid Seyval Blanc. Chardonel was developed at Cornell University in 1953 for its winter hardiness—a trait that is typically missing in Chardonnay but is present in Seyval. This late-ripening hybrid grows all over the East Coast and parts of the Midwest.

Tucked away in the North Georgia mountains, Crane Creek Vineyards (Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA) produces a crowd-pleasing Chardonel. The vineyard is run by 28-yearold Peter Seifarth, who is a second-generation winemaker. He says their Chardonel vines are almost as old as he is.

“My father [Eric] planted Chardonel around 1998 to diversify vinifera and hybrids,” says Seifarth. “Compared to other vines, Chardonel grows very airy and spaced out. It’s not as difficult as other vines—the chemistry of the fruit is perfect: It achieves nice sugar levels on the East Coast, and we’re keeping really high acidity. It makes a really lush and structured white.”

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Seifarth uses traditional vertical shoot positioning (VSP) on his three acres of Chardonel vines. The wine (labeled Enotah) is barrel fermented, goes through 100% malolactic fermentation and is aged on fine lees in secondfill Hungarian oak for a year before release. The resulting wine has flavors of pear, apple, lemon, white peach, cream, butter, coconut and toast, with a medium body, lifted acidity and a lingering finish.

“I’m drinking mine with boeuf bourguignon right now. It’s great with soups and stews,” says Seifarth.

Missouri grows about 120 collective acres of the grape, made in various styles. Stone Hill Winery, established in 1847, produces an aged reserve Chardonel with a high proportion of new French oak, which gives the wine the oaky, buttery Chardonnay style. In contrast, Augusta Winery uses stainless steel tank fermentation to retain primary fresh fruit flavors. And several wineries in Michigan use the hybrid as a blender for bubbles.

Quick Facts

  • Grape: Late-ripening, white wine grape
  • Cross Of: Chardonnay and hybrid Seyval Blanc
  • Wine Styles: Still, single varietal and blends; oaked and unoaked; some sparkling
  • Aromas/Flavors: Apple, pear, lemon, pineapple, butter, cream, bread, toast
  • Food Pairing: Grilled or roasted meats, creamy pasta, fresh seafood, soups and stews

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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