The Importance of Graves Blanc Blends
Get the soapbox ready…
I am, year in and year out, both disappointed and bored with the quality of Sauvignon Blanc being made in the United States. It is not because the right terroir is lacking here; there are any number of wonderful spots for the grape. Rather it is lack of winemaking inspiration and money grubbing that is at fault. With the onset in popularity of the squeaky clean, dime a dozen, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, many other wineries in the U.S. are trying to copy the Kiwi model. This means picking early, fermenting really cold in stainless steel to preserve aromatic esters, impeding ML, sterile filtering, and getting the wine in bottle within 4-5 months. The wine is almost always fine tasting, if uninspired, and really cheap to make.
However, when I see a whole slew of wines being made this way inhabiting the $30 price-point I can only think of how happy the winery owners are as they laugh themselves to the bank, how uninspired winemakers must become making this lab technician style wine, and how the quality of grapes is not shown justice.
The problem with these wines is that it has stupefied people into thinking that Sauvignon Blanc is not a serious grape. They think of Kiwi cat-pee instead of Haut-Brion Blanc or Smith Haut Lafitte. Particularly when blended with its historical bedmate Semillon, and treated like a serious white wine, Sauvignon Blanc can make some of the most compelling, aromatically and texturally intriguing white wines on earth.
As such, Cuvee Caritas is whole cluster pressed and fermented completely in barrique—some new, some neutral, and a few made of stainless steel. It is given battonage treatment to increase its richness and lies on its lees until just prior to bottling. The barrels for the blend are made by the former private barrel maker for Smith Haut Lafitte (one of my absolute favorite wines in the world)- who coopers tight grain French oak into barrels for this wine as he would for his former employer.
The fruit comes from two remarkable locations. The Sauvignon Musque (a particularly exotic and aromatic clone of Sauvignon Blanc) is grown on a steep hillside high up on Kick Ranch on the backside of Spring Mountain. The Semillon element comes from 100 year old vines growing at 1800’ above Sonoma Valley in the incomparable Monte Rosso vineyard.
Picture: Century Old Semillon vine at Monte Rosso, Sonoma Valley