Even though they talked about reducing the influence of oak in their chardonnays 10 years ago, American winemakers nevertheless heaped the oak on poor, innocent chardonnay grapes. Who could blame them? The American wine drinking pubic loved the creamy, vanilla, buttery effect imparted by oak in their chardonnays. For the most part, they still enjoy these awkward, out-of-balance, food un-friendly wines.
All this makes the 10th anniversary of NO Vineyards and Winery this year that much more amazing. The brainchild of Atlanta residents Hank and Kathy Bremer, NO Wines make chardonnays and sauvignon blancs without oak (NO ostensibly stands for No Oak). Without the influence of oak, wine lovers can discover what a chardonnay grape actually tastes like.
This seems like a good idea. The folks of Chablis, France, have been using this formula for about 900 years with great success. In the chilly climate northwest of Dijon, winemakers get to show off the flavors of crisp, green apples, ripe pears and citrus fruits that are common in the unadorned chardonnay grape. These are fun, interesting, food very-friendly wines.
But Americans want none of that. Well, most American chardonnay drinkers, that is. A small but growing number of chardonnay enthusiasts actually seek out unoaked versions of chardonnay, like those from NO (and to a lesser extent sauvignon blancs, which do not typically get serious oak treatments).
This category was virtually non-existent among American winemakers when the Bremers (with the assistance of a renowned wine expert and a seasoned winemaker) sat around the dining room table at the Bremer’s Atlanta home in 2002. In reaction to the tsunami of oaky chardonnays, they thought it would be refreshing to emulate the Chablis style. Their first vintage in 2004 produced 1,200 cases. This past year that number grew to 9,000 cases with distribution in 20 states. It has also in part spawned a growing number of proud, unabashedly un-oaked American chardonnays.
While their grapes come from northern California, the Bremers remain rooted in Atlanta, where they run the Pacific Wine Brokerage Company. Demonstrating their hometown spirit—and capitalizing on the success of NO—the Bremers sponsored a Just Say NO to Breast Cancer campaign this past October. In cooperation with several Atlanta restaurants (Carrabba’s, Concentrics Restaurants, Muss & Turner’s and Local Three), the Bremers raised more than $12,000 for breast cancer research during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All the proceeds went to the Atlanta chapter of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization.
“One of the greatest benefits of owning our own label is the ability to give back to this community,” Kathy said. “We want everyone who enjoys our wines to realize the seriousness of this commitment. We intentionally partner with local restaurants and donate to the Atlanta chapter so the funds raised will be used locally for grants to hopefully impact and change our community.”
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a wine consultant for Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.