The non-profit Patron Foundation recently hosted the inaugural three-day Chardonnay Classic at Napa’s Meritage and Vista Collina Resorts to benefit the Somm Foundation. The Patron Foundation is dedicated to the people who power the hospitality industry.

The SommFoundation (The Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation) is a California 501c3 nonprofit corporation. Its mission is “to assist wine and spirits professionals to achieve the highest level of proficiency and accreditation in the food and beverage industry.”

The weekend event included 22 tasting experiences, seminars led by master sommeliers, a concert, lunches, dinners and informal tastings. Geared to industry experts as well as amateur enthusiasts, activities were held from 9 am to 11 pm each day.

Master sommelier Jay Fletcher is the executive director of Fine Wine and master sommelier for Southern Wine and Spirits of Colorado. When asked about the revived popularity of chardonnay, Fletcher said he’s always liked the varietal.

“For 20 years, chardonnay styles surrendered to ripeness. For example, you’d have smoked salmon with oaked chardonnay. It was too much for many people. Now, wineries are producing more unoaked chardonnay and those who never liked it are enjoying it.”

The Classic kicked off with a retrospective of the 2018 and 2019 vintages for north coast chardonnay and what we can expect from 2020. Panelists were Donald Patz from Maritana Vineyards, Justin Ennis of Joseph Phelps, and Tiann Lordan from Hartford Court.

For those still in the outdated ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) Club, the event also sampled red and white varietals, nationally and internationally.

In the educational session “Old World, New World,” for instance, the discussion centered on the classic grapes of France and their “new world” counterparts. Participants tasted and compared a shirah from Rhone Valley versus one from Anderson Valley; a cabernet from Bordeaux, France with one from Stags Leap. One comparison was Domaine Liger-Belair, Hauts Cotes De Nuits “La Corvee de Villy” 2018 from Burgundy, France with Siduri Winery’s 2016 Pinot Noir “Lemorave Vineyard” from Santa Lucia Highlands, California.

Master sommeliers Jay Fletcher and Thomas Price joined senior vice president of Jackson Family Wines, Shilah Salmon to examine these wines and explain why acidity is higher and alcohol lower in the old-world wine versus the opposite in the new world (hint: climate).

In general, the old-world wines lead with a taste of spice, new world with fruit. The lecture featured detailed maps of each region discussed with the history of the varietal.

Fletcher, Price, and master sommelier Jay James moderated “The Art of Tasting Wine,” a blind tasting that explained evaluating wine through a deductive tasting or breaking down wine into its fundamental components.

The first component is sight: what are the primary and secondary colors; its sediment and viscosity?

Next is nose. Tasters smell and evaluate fruit, earth, wood, flowers, spices, and herbs.

The evaluation went on through how the wine felt on the palate, evaluating overall quality, value, varietal typicity, and aging potential.

The session took 90 minutes for the class to complete. A sommelier should know the wine in, at most, four minutes, 10 seconds. In his sommelier class, Fletcher teaches the students to breakdown the wine in two minutes and decide on the name in another two minutes

Evaluated in the class were gewurztraminer, pinot grigio, Viognier, zinfandel, tempranillo, and San Genovese.

Other sessions included “Vessels: Ever Ancient, Ever New,” “Cooking with Chardonnay,” “Archive Tasting with Trinitas Cellars,” “Chardonnay Grand Tasting,” and “Around the World with Chardonnay.”

Between sessions at the event, attendees had lunch, wine pairing dinners, a vineyard tour, optional vinotherapy Swedish massage, sip and paint, and a chocolate pairing. Nighttime activities included informal tastings, after-dinner receptions and the ABC Bar where the winemakers showcased other varietals and crafted cocktails.

A chardonnay grand tasting capped off Friday afternoon highlighting about a dozen wineries that feature chardonnay in their varietal offerings. On Saturday, the SommFoundation used their mapping tool, called SommGeo to virtually transport participants to wineries around the world.

Through the Patron Foundation, the Chardonnay Classic committed to donating $25,000 to the SommFoundation from part of the proceeds.

The SommFoundation supports and enables scholarships for the country’s next generation of winemakers, master sommeliers, and wine experts. These scholarships provide career-enhancing experiences, continued education and appreciation of the world of wine.

The next event, “Cabernet Classic,” is scheduled for Aug. 19-22. The format will be like the Chardonnay Classic but focus on the vineyards sites around the world that produce Cabernet.