Folkway Sauvignon Blanc 2016
So yes, 2016. I think I had a Rose go out from 2016 a few weeks back, but this is the first of the white’s I’ve come across.
If you’re not familiar, Rose and many white wines can be released about 6 months after they go into barrel. It takes a few weeks of course to get bottles filled, labels attached and then for those to be shipped to some central point to be distributed to interested parties.
Since this is the first of the 2016’s, let’s talk about that for a moment. Many of you know and are likely sick of hearing about the drought in California (just as you’re going to be sick of hearing about the wildfire season coming in October which stands to be truly out of the control) but it does effect what’s in your glass.
A little talked about side of the drought was that, in Napa it wasn’t nearly as bad as advertised. Drought in Napa Valley meant about 20 inches of rain for the year, instead of 32. Hardly a death spiral, even when most grapes have relatively easy access to ground water (the Napa river is mostly underground).
On the central coast though? A different story. This is where drought has hit and hit hard and 2015 seemingly marked the low point. Paso’s yields have been decimated, some growers have said that the vines simply stopped growing fruit, yields down 90% by some accounts.
2016 was the start of the comeback. Enough rain came down for some folks to say that it was a pretty boring vintage. It was cooler than average, but that’s ok when you’re literally fighting for survival.
It was a long and slow season by all accounts, with one expected thing happening in Santa Barbara that most outside the region, forget. September brought a heat spike that caused quite a few vintners to harvest earlier than they would have wanted to. After all, raisins don’t make for good wine.
Ok, so next Sauvignon Blanc.
First, I think it’s fair to say that there are really four tiers of white wine grape plantings in California.
The top tier is Chardonnay, by itself and it isn’t close.
The next tier, as you can see below includes Pinot Gris (it’s the white wine version of Pinot Noir, but you probably drink it when it’s called Pinot Grigio), Sauvignon Blanc and French Colombard (in California, let’s simply call this a bulk wine grape).
The third tier of white wine grapes in California includes some lesser known names like Gewurztraminer. They’re grapes which are hard to find still, but they have backers from higher end winery names.
Lastly, there’s grapes that basically don’t exist….which I’ve included on the chart in my personal favorite Grenache Blanc.
So if you’re planting a vineyard and want to put in some white wine, you’re basically asking yourself, is this a good site for Chardonnay? If it is, you’re done.
What if it isn’t though? Or what, if like my wife, you don’t love the varietal?
The answer if the vineyard is warmer, like this site in the Santa Barbara foothills usually means Sauvignon Blanc now in California. Colombard isn’t a serious choice. Pinot Gris likes it cold (and if you have a cooler site, you’ve planted the whole damn thing to Chardonnay) and the others are filler for most.
That warmer planting can lead to a wine that holds up to some oak, loses some of the trademark acidity it gains in Bordeaux. There’s more melon flavors and less grass.
Personally, +1 to that.
Lastly, this is a Santa Barbara Highlands vineyard. It says that it’s Santa Barbara, but this isn’t SB. It’s about 60 miles east of the ocean. This isn’t the foothills. It’s the mountains. Elevation has shown to help create acidity of course, but this is a WEIRD place.
It gets about 10 inches of rain a year in total. In fact about half of that comes from melting snow.
This isn’t what you pictured when you thought of SB was it? To me, this isn’t Santa Barbara. I think of the beach, of the fog, of the wind blowing in the cold air off the Pacific Ocean, the kelp bed. What I don’t think of, a mountainous desert that is fed by a river.
It’s also HUGE. Almost a thousand acres of vines in total, this is hardly the small parcel that many of us think of. It’s big enough to be one of the very few vineyards in California where mechanical harvesting can take place. That’s something that is incredibly common in Australia and elsewhere in the new world, but in California? Unheard of. Partially that’s because some of our best vineyard space is situated on hills and mechanical harvesters work best on flat ground. Plus, some of our rows are close enough that mechanical harvesters simply aren’t a possibility.
All in all, you’ll read a lot about the Santa Barbara Highlands vineyard, but as a winemaker said during an interview a few weeks ago: sometimes you meet expectations and sometimes, you play off them. When it comes to SB wine, the highlands vineyard is often playing off of them.