Santa Maria Valley’s annual Chardonnay Symposium, recognized by several publications as one of the best wine events in the state, returns to the region Friday through Sunday, July 19 through 21.

Among the highlights this year are a tribute dinner, educational panel moderated by Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast and an afternoon of chardonnay tasting paired with edibles from local restaurants and caterers.

Chardonnay continues to reign as America’s “sweetheart” wine grape varietal, and Chris Slaughter, executive director of the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association, which produces the symposium, believes the three-day event is a must for consumers and industry professionals alike.

Now in its fourth year, the Chardonnay Symposium “has blossomed” into an event that regularly sells out, with interest and participation from aficionados around the world, she said.

“Consumers want to know more about their favorite wine, and winemakers are thrilled to tell their story.”

Jonathan Nagy, winemaker at Byron, the hosting winery, calls the symposium “a growing event that puts a focus on chardonnay.” Referring to the section of elevated vineyard land known as the “bench,” Nagy said, “Since chardonnay is what helped put the Santa Maria Bench on the map, it feels appropriate to be hosting an event that showcases chardonnay (produced) from an amazing group of wineries from so many different grape-growing regions.”

This July’s symposium opens with a dinner tribute to Jim Clendenen, a pioneering winemaker from the Santa Maria Valley, from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, July 19, at the historic adobe on Bien Nacido Vineyard. Sommelier and winemaker Rajat Parr, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Clendenen’s longtime business partner and winemaker Gavin Chanin, will be among those toasting Clendenen, who specializes in chardonnay and pinot noir with his Au Bon Climat label.

Chef Rick Manson will prepare a four-course dinner to be paired with wines selected by the speakers. Tickets are $200.

Beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday is the chardonnay winemaker panel session, which includes seven winemakers or industry specialists, and the return of moderator Heimoff. This year’s session is entitled “Bring in the clones! Chardonnay Clones: Do you care? Should you?”

Participating will be Matt Dees, Jonata Wines; Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery; Eckhard Kaesekamp, Guillaume Grapevine Nursery; Jeff Stewart, Hartford Court Winery; Clarissa Nagy, Riverbench Vineyard & Winery; James Ontiveros, Alta Maria Vineyards and Native 9 Wines; and Karl D. Wente, Wente Vineyards.

Following the panel will be the grand tasting from 1 to 4 p.m. Among more than 50 wineries scheduled to pour are Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Brewer-Clifton, Deovlet Wines, Dierberg Vineyard, Fontes & Phillips, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Kessler-Haak Vineyards, Patz & Hall, Rusack Vineyards and Sierra Madre.

The cost of the grand tasting alone is $65 per person; both the panel and tasting together are $150.

The schedule for Sunday, July 21, has yet to be announced, according to the website.

For information, tickets and more details on participating wineries, visit www.thechardonnaysymposium.com, or email info@thechardonnaysymposium.com

Freelance writer Laurie Jervis can be reached at winecountrywriter@gmail.com. Her blog is www.centralcoastwinepress.com.

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