Crisp and refreshing, yet seriously structured at its best, Sauvignon Blanc is the second-most popular varietal white wine in Sonoma County. If you're looking for a Sauvignon Blanc to hold its own amongst Old World and New World expressions alike, you'll enjoy discovering Sonoma County's bounty.
Sauvignon Blanc Key Facts
Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine grape that’s so old, it’s a parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (along with Cabernet Franc—but neither red nor white can be said to be male or female, as all vitis vinifera winegrapes are hermaphroditic). Sauvignon itself gets its name for a French term for “wild,” perhaps because of its spiked leaves and rampant growth habit.
Sauvignon Blanc is an important white grape in Bordeaux, France, where it’s made as a dry white or often combined with Semillon to make a sweet wine style. Perhaps more aspired to by international winemakers, Sauvignon Blanc grown in the more northern Loire Valley of France, notably the regions Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, is revered for its high acidity and mineral notes.
More recently, the upstart New World producers of New Zealand defined an iconic style of grassy, fresh and fruity Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc in Sonoma County
Sauvignon Blanc was among the hundreds of grape cultivars imported to Sonoma County by the quixotic wine pioneer, Agoston Haraszthy. However, in 1968 it was among those varieties that did not even register in the official count of grape acreage.
That changed. Today, Sauvignon Blanc is the second-most planted white wine grape in Sonoma County, albeit at less than one-fifth of Chardonnay’s reign, with 2,500 acres in Sonoma County in 2016 (compare to Chardonnay’s 15,800). In 2017, around 10,000 tons of Sauvignon Blanc were crushed, at an average price to the grower of about $1,734 per ton, while Chardonnay fetched $2,332.
Sauvignon Blanc Style
As a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc shares a key organic kinship: pyrazines. In Cabernet, that can be expressed as a note of green bell pepper, in the more unripe cases and from poorer locations, or by “cigar box” in better examples. With Sauvignon Blanc, the range of “green” aromas and flavors goes from fresh-cut grass to green grape, gooseberry, to dry hay and straw, buffered in some cases by substantial “minerality,” or a sense of crushed stones that adds a feel of seriousness and weight to an otherwise crisp, refreshing white wine.
When Sonoma County winemakers reference international styles, they often may refer to a more “mineral-driven” Loire or Sancerre style on the one hand or a more “fruit-driven” New Zealand style on the other. Neither of these should be taken as always representative of the wines of those regions—it’s a very basic roadmap.
Sauvignon Blanc may be aged in stainless steel, and more popularly in recent years, concrete eggs, or in barrels. While a rounder, more oak-influenced style may be achieved in oak barrels, the wine is very rarely fermented in new oak or fermented malolactically, as is often the case with Chardonnay. When aged in tanks or barrels on the lees, Sauv Blanc (also called “SB,” or “Savvy,”) may acquire a creamy top note, while barrel aging may round out flavors and even add a hint of smoke.
Sonoma County’s Key Sauvignon Blanc Regions
This warm region is best known for Bordeaux varieties, and Sauvignon Blanc finds a natural home in the gravelly soils.
In reds, this is Zinfandel country, maybe Cabernet country, but Chardonnay? Not really. Sauvignon Blanc in a sweet spot.
Might this be the most “New Zealand” of Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc regions? The fresh, deep fruitiness of the wines merits discussion.
A uniquely frigid nook in the middle of the county, Bennett Valley is home to some exciting cooler climate Sauvignon Blancs.
Wineries: Matanzas Creek (offering a range of Sauv Blancs from Bennett Valley up to Knights Valley)
There are just a few notable exceptions in this mostly red wine region.
Wineries: MacLeod Family Vineyard (George MacLeod gave voice to his Sauvignon Blanc, in the personification of “Marie,” for many years in a column in the local Kenwood Press), Kenwood Vineyards, Benziger Family Winery
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.