Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Community Interest” September 2007.
By Elisabeth Frater
Napa-grown Sauvignon Blanc is a delightful curiosity mainly because local winemakers have leapt over the traditional herbal and grassy boundaries. Instead, we have wines with a wide flavor and aroma spectrum evoking Meyer lemon, passion fruit, honeysuckle, stone fruit and lemongrass. What you get on your palate is excitingly unpredictable. The winemaker might decide to use oak barrels, or stainless steel, or add stone fruit flavors by adding Semillon-a common blending grape-or leave a hint of residual sugar. What seems to make or break this wine is a combination of the grape grower’s and the winemaker’s ability to coax the grape’s unique potential.
Bob Broman, winemaker at Broman Cellars says that from a stylistic perspective, the Napa Valley is a perfect place to grow and make Sauvignon Blanc. “There is a great diversity of growing conditions from the north near Calistoga to Carneros in the south, which produce very different characteristics while maintaining a great acid/pH balance,” he says.
It doesn’t hurt that Mother Nature blesses us. “The Mediterranean climate of Napa Valley with its warm days and cool nights provides the perfect conditions for Sauvignon Blanc,” says Laurie Claudon, the proprietor of Clark-Claudon Vineyards. “The day time heat brings out the ripe fruit characteristics while the cool nights allow the maintenance of adequate acid levels,” she points out.
The grape’s growing site also lends a noticeable impact, and must be situated so that the fruit can fully ripen. At J. Lohr Winery, Sauvignon Blanc is grown in a north St. Helena vineyard bordered by the Napa River. Steve Lohr says Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is special because of a warm climate, abundant winter rainfall, and deep, well-drained soils.
“Toward the southern and cooler end of Napa Valley, Sauvignon Blanc tends to display a slightly broader array of herbal components than its mid and upper valley counterparts,” says Lohr. “But Napa Sauvignon Blanc in general will be less grassy and aggressively herbaceous than most New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.”
Winemakers are also responding to consumer preferences. “In recent years, the trend has been to reduce the amount of oak exposure, thereby allowing Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs to fully express their fresh, clean fruit-based with herbal top note components,” says Lohr. Accordingly, the J. Lohr Carol’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is all about freshness, elegance and sublime fruit flavors says Lohr. At Clark-Claudon Vineyards, the Wild Iris Sauvignon Blanc definitely falls into the warm climate, stainless steel fermented, lushly aromatic, fruit forward, full mouth feel style says Claudon.
Broman’s wine is modeled after those from Sancerre with clean, bright fruit and great acidity. He eschews oak or malolactic fermentation preferring fresh and balanced wine. The growing conditions in Rutherford allow him to get fuller, tropical characteristics than you would find in most Sancerres, he says.
David DeSante, of DeSante Wines bases his wine on the farmhouse styled wines of the Loire Valley. “Holding to the tradition in the Loire, this wine has a relatively low alcohol (12.7%) and a crisp, fresh palate. The difference from the New Zealand model of Sauvignon Blanc is that the Old Vine is unfined and unfiltered and contains some yeast and lees. This very slightly cloudy wine benefits from the incorporation of lees to give it a pleasing roundness on the palate that is not derived from sugar or alcohol,” says DeSante.
With so many choices, it seems best to let your palate be the guide.
The wines we tasted are:
1. Broman Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ($16) Cold fermented in a small stainless steel tank with no malolactic fermentation or barrel aging results in a vibrant nose, Meyer lemon, honeysuckle flavors and a crisp citrus finish. (www.bromancellars.com)
2. Clark-Claudon Vineyards; Napa Valley Wild Iris Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($26) Pretty herbal notes on the nose, balanced tropical flavors, layered with toasty, burnt sugar. (www.clarkclaudon.com)
3. DeSante Wines Napa Valley Old Vine Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ($22) Tangy lemon, peach and nectarine flavors, mineral and lemon crème finish. (www.desantewines.com/)
4. Groth Vineyards & Winery Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($18) Delicate and focused citrus nose, lemon and nectarine with hints of lime on the finish from a blend of Sauvignon and Semillion. (www.grothwines.com)
5. Honig Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($13) Loire style with crisp, grapefruit and tropical flavors resulting in a wonderful mouthfeel. (www.honigwine.com)
6. J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines Napa Valley Carol’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($24) (www.jlohr.com) Vibrant aromas of grapefruit and citrus flavors mingle with lively flavors of gooseberry, grapefruit, and kiwifruit.
7. Ladera Howell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($23) Vibrant citrus, grapefruit rind melon and zest on the finish. (www.laderavineyards.com)
8. Raymond Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley Reserve 2006 ($14) Fruit-forward with pineapple, lemon and bright citrus aromas, with a fresh-cut grass undertone. (www.raymondwine.com)