From polarising to popular: why Chardonnay is back in fashion

Today is International Chardonnay Day, and sales data show that this white wine is back in fashion – and customers are happy to pay for it.

Chardonnay is arguably the wine world’s most polarising variety, but new statistics show it is experiencing double-digit growth in Australia – and wine lovers are happy to pay for quality.

Sales of premium Chardonnay (wines in the $20-$30 price range) have increased 12 percent year on year according to data from Dan Murphy’s and BWS, which makes it the fastest growing price category for Chardonnay.

“Australian Chardonnay is one of the most exciting wine categories in the world today. The quality and value is explosively good with so much diversity of style yet precision and superb fruit definition,” said Andrew Caillard MW, fine wine principal at Dan Murphy’s and BWS.

According to the sales data from Dan Murphy’s and BWS, Margaret River Chardonnay makes up approximately 15% percent of total Chardonnay sales in the country – this despite the region only producing 3% of Australia’s total crush according to Wine Australia*.

In Western Australia, Margaret River Chardonnay makes up 31% of Chardonnay sales – the highest proportion of all states.


Margaret River winemaker Freya Hohnen believes the uniqueness of the wine region together with the collaborative spirit of the winemaking community has helped the region excel in Chardonnay; the white wine variety that was an outcast for more than a decade.

“Some winemakers in the 1990s were making overly oaky and buttery styles of Chardonnay, and it became very uncool to drink Chardonnay all of a sudden. The term ABC – Anything But Chardonnay – was even coined,” Hohnen explained.

“Winemakers in Margaret River started working together, and through trial and error and by listening to wine drinkers, they refined and evolved the style. Today, Margaret River Chardonnay has found its sweet spot. It’s not too lean and not too powerful – and the feedback from wine drinkers is that this is the kind of Chardonnay they love,” Hohnen said.

Margaret River is a diverse region, and some pockets have similar growing conditions to the famed Burgundy region in France, which makes what is considered the world’s best Chardonnay.

“Margaret River is a very special region where the two oceans moderate the climate, so you have this growing season where it never gets too hot nor too cold,” Hohnen explained.

Although sales of Chardonnay are on the rise, Hohnen admits the wine still struggles with its bad reputation from the ABC days.

“Often when I host wine tastings, people will walk past saying ‘Oh I don’t like Chardonnay, I won’t try that’. I ask them to just give it a go, and more often than not, they’ll be pleasantly surprised and say ‘Wow, that was not what I was expecting’,” she said.

Hohnen grew up on the estate of Cape Mentelle, which was co-founded by her father David Hohnen, one of the original Margaret River pioneers. While her father’s main passion has been crafting quality red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, white wines have been Freya’s specialty – and today, she makes a Margaret River Chardonnay she has named Once & Well, after a motto her father instilled in her.

“He taught me that if you do something once and you do it well, you don’t have to do it all over again, so the name is an homage to one of the many great lessons he has taught me over the years,” she said.

“I wanted to make a premium Chardonnay that was accessible to all Australians, and an expression of the region, which is how the idea behind Once & Well was born. The grapes are from different sites, so you get a blend of tropical flavours and citrus characters. The end result is a lovely, balanced Margaret River Chardonnay,” Hohnen said.




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