I Hate Chardonnay

Those three words are heard so often in our winery I now expect 8 out of 10 first-time visitors to utter them (that’s 80%, for those of you who are statistically-minded).

Granted, the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement has been alive and well for 30 years, and with good reason: oceans of cheap plonk have been foisted on us all in the race to sell America’s #1 white wine. I’ll also grant that wine is a personal experience and people are entitled to drink what they like.

But this doesn’t mean all chardonnay is cheap plonk or poorly made, or that people really know what they like. Many only know what they’re supposed to like, and some can’t tell one wine from another (trust me on that).

On the other hand, we have long-time customers with fine palates (including many Europeans, and even a few Burgundians) who think our chardonnay is a fine wine offered at an attractive price. They tell us they appreciate that it is locally-grown, handcrafted, and – as one critic called it – ambitious. We focus our efforts on pleasing these people, but are regularly challenged by the chardonnay haters. It is as if we are caught in the crossfire of two very different realities:

A) 80% of our new visitors swear they “hate chardonnay” and will render this unfiltered opinion without restraint. Most won’t even try our chardonnay, and many who do grimace in the process. This hurts to watch.

B) We sell all of our chardonnay, most by the case, at more than 2x the average price for chardonnay in the U.S. Many of those buyers come back for more; most are disappointed when a vintage sells out. Some get angry.

How can we reconcile this disparity? The only rational way we can: capture some data.

To do this we removed chardonnay from our daily tasting list (so new visitors didn’t know we made it) and instead offered an extra “mystery pour” for each guest’s visit.

We wrapped bottles of our 2014 chardonnay in brown paper bags, poured a splash in the visitors’ glasses, and asked them to tell us if the liked it, disliked it, or were neutral. The results surprised even us:

Like It 81%
Don’t Like It 6%
Neutral 12%
Total 99% (due to rounding)

So, let’s sum this up:

• If people know it’s chardonnay, then 80% say they hate it without even trying it.

• If people try it without knowing it’s chardonnay, 80% say they like it.

We conclude that there is a negative bias, an urban myth really, that chardonnay is so repulsive it’s not even worth trying. And that’s too bad, because there are chardonnays grown in New Jersey that rival the best of Burgundy, as the Judgment of Princeton revealed in 2012.

By the way, we don’t believe in gimmicks to boost wine sales, but we noted an uptick in purchases of chardonnay on the days we offered mystery pours. Maybe we should invest in more brown paper bags.

– Peter Leitner