Sauvignon Blanc Hits Crush Pads
The SB pick begins in Napa and Northern California
What does sauvignon blanc mean to you? Is it grassy and herby and does it smell slightly of cat piss? Is it rich and tropical, even creamy, with hints of oak? Minerally like a river bed with mouth-watering acidity that screams out for seafood? Or is it sweet, lush and honeyed, served in a delicate glass and paired with a fruit tart?
However you prefer your SB is perfectly acceptable. Sauvignon blanc, like chardonnay, grows in countries all over the world, both old and new, and is made in as many styles. But unlike the queen of white, sauvignon blanc has yet to really find its own true voice in California. Every vintner has his own take on just what SB should be — and for their particular climate. Some look to Sancerre, some to New Zealand, others still to Bordeaux. But one thing that most vintners growing sauvignon blanc in Northern California have been able to agree on this week, is that it’s time to pick.
Sauvignon blanc is typically harvested in the range of 22-24 degrees Brix, but even those making riper versions strive first and foremost to preserve its acidity — and 2012 has been perfect for that.
“If you were to make a graph of this growing season, it would be a perfect bell curve,” says Tim Carl of Knight’s Bridge winery of his estate vineyard in Knight’s Valley. The heat came on slowly, he says, which is important for preserving acidity in all wines, but especially in whites. Hugh Chappelle, the winemaker at Quivira, in Dry Creek Valley, picked his first sauvignon blanc grapes (for the winery’s flagship wine) from their biodynamically farmed Fig Tree Vineyard on August 27 (at 22.5 Brix), but says he intends to pick the rest of his SB in “phases.” For his style of wine, which he describes as a mix of “old and new world” — balancing minerality with fruit aromas — he needs blending components that cover the spectrum of sauvignon blanc ripeness; from green and grassy to citrus and tropical.
In Napa, which is often and incorrectly assumed to be “too hot” for SB, acidity is staying high this year even as sugar levels climb. Which means winemakers have the uncommon privilege of deciding whether to pick now or let it hang on and develop more ripeness and flavor.