San Joaquin Valley wine grape growers and vintners gathered in Fresno recently for a lesson in the ABC’s — “Anything But Chardonnay.”

Not meant to disparage the Chardonnay variety, a mainstay in the industry, it was a chance to sample wines that go well beyond what is commonly found on supermarket shelves or menus in U.S. restaurants.

This was about looking at what the future could hold in terms of new varieties that could be used for blends or could even rival other accepted varietals that include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc.

“We haven’t found that shining star yet,” said Oren Kaye, winemaker with Constellation Brands in Madera, which has made small lots of a couple dozen varieties from the University of California Kearney Ag Center.

But Kaye and others with Constellation are still looking and still growing at eight San Joaquin Valley locations wines whose names are as foreign as their countries of origin – Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Italy and France.

At Mission Bell, the company has 30 acres of Petite Verdot and 30 acres of Durif. Other plantings around the state include 50 acres of a variety called Tannat. About 50 varieties are being studied at UC Kearney.

Participants in the 5th Annual Viticulture and Research Roadshow in Fresno got a chance to sample some of the exotic wines at the event presented by UC Cooperative Extension and the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association.

“Grapefruit” was identified as a characteristic of Fiano, one of the new wines being sampled. “Melon” was Kaye’s description for that variety. “Like a liqueur,” said another in the crowd.

Fiano and Biancu Gentile (“Sauvignon Blanc like,” said Kaye) were two whites that were sampled; reds included Sagrantino and Marselan Noir.

“I like them all,” said Jon Holmquist, manager of grower relations for Constellation.

Kaye emphasized that the winemaker is not looking for something that “tastes like Cabernet or Sirah” or other varieties that are mass marketed.

“It can be a breakthrough; it can be its own signature style,” he said.

The idea of experimenting with new varieties is to test grapes that might be better suited to the Valley’s heat and that might bring other appealing qualities that could include higher yield, lower production costs, low rot potential, better color, less vegetative characteristics and easier mechanical harvesting.

“We have a history of putting the wrong grapes in this place of ours,” Kaye said, referring to a tendency to bring varieties to the valley from places that do not experience the heat common in the Valley.