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International Sauvignon Blanc Day: California rising plus 15 wines to try

For International Sauvignon Blanc Day, US editor Clive Pursehouse looks into the grape’s rise in California.

Sauvignon Blanc will be celebrated the world over on 5 May. While the grape’s origins point to the Loire and Bordeaux, it has developed an iconic reputation among vineyards around the globe, not least in New Zealand and also South Africa, Australia and the US.

From the valley floors of Napa to a legendary Russian River vineyard, the white Bordeaux variety is a rising star in California.

Scroll down to see 15 California Sauvignon Blancs to try

There are many reasons for Sauvignon Blanc’s success in the state. Perhaps most importantly, California’s winemakers are excited about new styles and approaches to a grape that suits Napa, right down to its roots.

‘Winemakers have been crafting these wines for years,’ says Matt Sands of Napa’s New Frontier Wine Co. ‘Yet they are getting more innovative with each vintage: picking earlier and borrowing techniques from around the world to express the variety differently.’

There is no denying the growth in the variety. In some cases, as estates recovered after the Glass or Atlas fires, many of them grafted over to Sauvignon Blanc where before there were Chardonnay or even Cabernet vines.

The famed Ritchie Vineyard in Russian River is considered one of California’s ‘grand cru’ sites by many when it comes to Chardonnay. Its Sauvignon Blanc, however, is equally complex, and Matt Sands now purchases the majority of it for the New Frontier Waypoint label.

There is undoubtedly a ‘prototypical California Sauvignon Blanc’ that producers and consumers seem to be moving away from.

Ehlers Estate winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz believes these new approaches will lead to more complex wines of nuance. ‘There’s a desire to make more complex and mineral-style wines over tropical and crispy bombs.’

Approaches to winemaking, along with wine growing and new clones are driving complexity and nuance.

‘I’m replanting a block of Sauvignon Blanc clone 376 just to add more complexity and minerality, with an acidic finish to the blend in the future,’ says Díaz Muñoz. ‘Napa mostly uses Clone 1 Sauvignon Blanc, which is aromatically distinctive, fruitier, and more tropical. Napa Sauvignon Blanc can be fruiter in the finish and less mineral or savoury.’

As Napa seeks to make a wine more stylistically like those found in Sancerre or Bordeaux, clonal diversity and vineyard decisions will be significant drivers. However, winemaking techniques are crucial to making wines of complexity.

‘You’re seeing people using more oak combinations with some used oak and a good deal of new, as well as the use of concrete vessels to give the wines some oxygen. These contribute to building body and mouthfeel and enhancing the wine’s aromas,’ Díaz Muñoz says. ‘Longer ageing sur lie is also beneficial and something winemakers are embracing.’

These emerging Sauvignon Blancs are beguiling, delicious and worthy of celebration on any day.

15 California Sauvignon Blancs to explore

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