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Get Organic with Sauvignon Blancs
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A Better Blanc: Great Whites That Are Good for the Earth

By Thom Elkjer

Thom Elkjer makes some Sauvignon Blanc wine buying recommendations that help you contribute to sustainable, healthy vineyards and add pleasure to your palate by supporting winemakers and vineyardists who adhere to the rules of biodynamic and organic farming.

At harvest time in California wine country, it’s not just warm during the day. Sometimes it’s downright hot. That’s because the vast Pacific Ocean, the cold California current that runs along the coast, and other factors conspire to push our summer season, weather-wise, much later into the year than in other parts of the country.

So while the south is steaming and the Midwest is baking in June and July, California’s coastal counties are often chilled by morning fog and cooled by afternoon wind. Then in September and October, when the leaves are turning in Wisconsin’s Door County and people are donning jackets to walk on Cape Cod, vines in California hang in all-day sun, soaking up the energy they need to complete their reproductive cycle.

That’s just one reason why the summer white-wine-drinking season lasts so long in wine country. The other is that many wineries bottle their Sauvignon Blancs in early to mid-summer. By late summer they’ve made their way to our tables, where they’re fresh, new, and maximally inviting. For this column, I’ve selected a group of Sauvignons that have an extra dimension of interest: they’re all made from grapes grown organically or biodynamically.

Clean, green viticulture is one of the best trends in the wine business, and we can all help it along by voting with our dollars for wines that give us everything we want in the glass plus a boost for the earth. Organic and biodynamic vineyards put no synthetic chemicals into the air, ground or water—or the grapes that wind up in your glass. And that’s just one difference.

Organic farmers can’t rely on agribusiness band-aids to cover up their mistakes or offset nature’s surprises, so they get to know their vines so well that they can anticipate the surprises. Michael Honig, the vintner who converted Napa Valley’s Honig Vineyards to organic viticulture years ago, puts it best: “Growing organically makes me a better farmer.” The Honig Sauvignon Blanc is one of Napa’s most consistently satisfying wines, a mainstay on the San Francisco Chronicle's “Top 100” list year after year.

Vintners who go to the trouble to grow (or buy) organic and biodynamic grapes tend to take equal care in the winery: fermenting naturally using the yeast that’s already on the grape skins, handling the wine gently, preserving as much of the real fruit flavor as they can. This is a tremendous plus with Sauvignon Blanc, which is highly responsive to the site, soil and weather where it’s grown. That’s why it tastes grassy coming from a wind-swept island (New Zealand), flinty coming from a cool river valley (the Loire in France), and melony coming from a canyon in California (Dry Creek).

These flavor profiles are showcased most beautifully, I believe, when Sauvignon Blanc is grown organically or biodynamically. What you taste in the vineyard in those hot days of “summer” is what you get in the glass: warm sunlight, sweet energy, and a fruited refreshment for your palate like no other.

 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2004 ($32): an endlessly absorbing cornucopia, from rich scents of tropical stone fruits and honeydew melon to dancing flavors of apple, wet grass and grapefruit—all smoothly blended into the persistent finish

Araujo Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley Estate Eisele Vineyard 2004($38): lushly packed with fresh melons, lemon-lime and tropical fruits that drape over your palate, yet also light on its feet with a zingy texture and light touch of oak.

Chance Creek Sauvignon Blanc Redwood Valley 2004 ($15): offers a snappy mouthful of sweet citrus, strawflowers and lemon drops, deftly balanced acid and oak, and a dancy texture all the way through. Well made wine.
Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley Fig Tree Vineyard 2003 ($16): if you like Chardonnay made with barrel fermentation, malolactic and extended aging, this SB’s for you: plush, wood-paneled and persuasive.

Lolonis Fumé Blanc Mendocino and Lake Counties 2004 ($13): offers floral and tropical aromas, but the flavors in your mouth will remind you of ripe citrus and sweet oak and the texture on your tongue is raw silk.

  Napa Wine Company Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2003 ($14): fresh, cool grass and grapefruit aromas waft up from the glass, before a suave, sweet mouthful of classic SB flavors with a crisp edge and darker, honeyed notes.
  Honig Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2004($15): shows the cool, deep, mineral side of SB, with wet grass, ripe citrus and chalk in the aromas and flavors, plus an impressive broadening of the flavor profile deep into the finish.
  Benziger Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Mountain “Paradiso de Maria” 2004 ($27): here’s an impressively big mouthful of everything—fruit, flowers, acid, oak—in a plush package that warms and unifies from the mid-palate to the finish. 

Also Tasted:
Bridge/Eco Sauvignon Blanc California 2004 ($9): dispense with the preliminaries and start quaffing—you rarely get this kind of true varietal flavor and clean, crisp finish under ten bucks. Good value and organically grown.

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