California Chardonnay produces some of the most polarizing reactions from the world of wine drinkers. The buttery, oaky, ripe pear and tropical fruit flavors made popular in the late 80’s and 90’s propelled sales of American Chardonnay into the stratosphere, and kept it there. And while Americans were happily sipping away at these powerful and rich fruit bombs, their mere presence represented everything that was wrong with American wine for old world wine fans. In contrast to the floral, apple and mineral notes found in many racy Chardonnays from France, California’s version was seen as just plain overdone. Over-oaked, over-ripened fruit, and malolactic fermentation (the “second fermentation” that gives Chardonnay that buttery mouth feel) all combined into something that fans of classic Burgundian Chardonnay considered an abomination of the varietal.

Cast aside any preconceptions about what wine should be, however, and for pure enjoyment there’s something sinfully pleasant about American Chardonnays. The round mouth feel, richness and intensity makes for a versatile wine that can happily accompany a light afternoon snack, or be a great companion with hearty dishes of fowl or fish.

Of course there are plenty of examples of overdone wines that just feel flabby and lack character. And there’s been a recent move by several California winemakers to embrace a lean and pure style of Chardonnay that attempts to capture the essence of the Chardonnay fruit with no further distractions. But given the right combination of great grapes and just the right amount of restraint in the winemaking process, we’ve still got a soft spot in our hearts for these wines, and Lafond is a great example of what the classic California Chardonnay is all about.

These are not faint wines – with 100% barrel fermentation, about half in new oak, there is plenty of oakiness transferred into the wine. But while the richness and intensity is certainly present, there’s complexity on the palate and a sense of restraint that shines through, making what could easily be an overly powerful wine into something that is inviting and, dare I say it, sophisticated.

Long time Lafond winemaker Bruce McGuire oversees the winemaking operations, and also produces some very respectable Pinot Noirs, as well as a couple of Rhone varietal wines. In our latest tasting, however, we felt that the Chardonnays were the clear standouts. If you’re a history buff, it’s notable that Pierre Lafond founded the first post-prohibition commercial winery in Santa Barbara County back in 1962, and purchased the beginnings of the current Lafond estate and vineyards in 1972.

The drive along Santa Rosa Road that leads to the tasting room is so picturesque that it’s reason enough to take the trip to visit. But the luscious wines and knowledgeable tasting room staff at the impeccably maintained estate with a big grassy area for picnics makes it a regular stop for us when heading through the Sta. Rita Hills loop.


6855 Santa Rosa Road, Buellton, CA 93427


Open daily 10 – 5