California’s Lake County, just about an hour north of the famed Napa wine growing region, has a lot of diamonds including the geologically unique Lake County variety. But another shining gem in the region is the Sauvignon Blanc grapes and the wines they produce that are grown here.
Wait, you say. Isn’t Sauvignon Blanc really the domain of New Zealand? Well, at last year’s Chronicle Awards Lake County’s Sauv Blancs actually were a huge hit with a dozen golds. In fact Lake County wines did really well with twenty-eight varietals of Lake County grapes picking up medals at the competition, from Aglianico to Zinfandel. Cabernet Sauvignon was the judges’ favorite red with 13 medals and Lake County Sauvignon Blancs were a big winner as well with a dozen. Chardonnay also made a solid showing at 10 medals earned.
Sauvignon Blanc is actually the second most widely grown grape in Lake County. The warm climate and variety of terroir and elevations means that this wine ranges from citrus-like grassy to lean finish and even some with a more bright and fruity finish.
Wine experts note a variety of flavors form zingy citrus, crisp apple, lush melon, tropical pineapply, dry minerality, green herbs, freshly-cut grass and more. Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect spring and summer sipper.
According to Debra Sommerfield, “A lot of people associate Sauvignon Blanc with Lake County,” she said, “It’s a nice wine with food.”
Mark Birch from Chacewater Winery and Olive Mill added that, “I think everybody has looked at Lake County for Sauv Blanc for decades. It’s the one variety that we get recognized for. The thing they like about Chacewater is that neither are particularly overly grassy - they have a nice balance to them. There is more melon and tropical flavors and finish crisp with a firm acidity - that’s what people like about it.”
Gregory Graham of the winery that bears his well-known name added that, “We’re not impacted by a marine layer. Our Sauvignon Blancs are more fruit-driven although some do try to get that pyridines which is a more herbal/greeness. These pyridines respond to sunlight which gives you more of a fruit character.”
As for Greg himself? “I’m working on getting more of the stone fruit/peach nectar” (from his wines).
The Sauvignon Blanc grape originated in the same region as America’s two most popular red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the Bordeaux region of France. In Bordeaux, it is believed that the grape was given the name Sauvignon Blanc from the French word sauvage, which means wild, because the grape grew like a weed throughout the region. Instead of being fermented and bottled on its own, winemakers in Bordeaux chose to use Sauvignon Blanc in their white blends and to make the dessert wine Sauterne.
From the nightlife of Paris, Sauvignon Blanc traveled around the globe and found another champion in New Zealand, who would finally make the grape’s name known worldwide. In the 1980s, few had still heard the actual name Sauvignon Blanc, even though many were drinking it regularly every time they drank Sancerre. It was then that New Zealand wines hit the international market, debuting wines that were bright, crisp, refreshing and, best of all, incredibly affordable. The rest of the world took notice of these vibrant wines and, soon after, wine regions such as California, Chile and South Africa were also making stellar representations of the grape.
Whether called Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc, it is known as a refreshing dry wine that has a great minerality, aromas and tastes of herbs and grasses and a nice crisp pucker. Across the world, including in France, the wine is hardly ever aged in oak, with the winemakers preferring to exhibit the bright and fruity characteristics of the grape.
Wine experts have used the phrase "crisp, elegant, and fresh" as a favorable description of Sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley and New Zealand. Sauvignon blanc, when slightly chilled, pairs well with fish or cheese, particularly chèvre. It is also known as one of the few wines that can pair well with sushi.
The next time you’re visiting Lake County make sure to take in several styles of Sauvignon Blanc. With so many different ways of growing and finishing this wonderful varietal there are all kinds of ways to love it. Oh, and don’t forget to grab a few bottles for friends.
Tell them the Featherbed Railroad sent you!
Written by Anthony B. Barthel
A blog about happenings in Lake County.