Tim Bell says to be a good winemaker you have to have a little bit of a farmer in you, as well as an artist, a scientist and a romantic, too.
This multifaceted winemaker is behind our wine-of-the week winner — the Dry Creek Vineyard, 2017 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc at $20.
What makes this sauvignon blanc a stand out is its nuance of flavors and its supple texture. It’s complex, with notes of grapefruit, passion fruit and lemon curd. Buoyed with bright acidity, this sauvignon blanc finishes crisp and its striking.
“We have a unique house style,” Bell said. “We’ve been using a pretty unusual clone of sauvignon blanc, and we don’t know anyone in Sonoma County using it.”
The clone Bell is referring to is sauvignon gris, which is similar to sémillon in texture, giving the wine a weightier mouthfeel than most sauvignon blancs.
Bell also finesses texture by using partial oak fermentation, with the barrels primarily neutral oak with some acacia wood and chestnut in the mix.
“The chestnut has pronounced vanilla so we use just a little bit, and it adds a creamy quality when it’s under citrus fruit,” Bell said.
The other clone behind this unique version of sauvignon blanc is sauvignon musque, and it offers up an array of notes including white peach and honeysuckle.
What the uninitiated don’t know about sauvignon blanc is that it’s so refreshing, Bell said.
“It’s certainly not ponderous and heavy,” he said. “I like the grassy quality and a combination of citrus fruit and a slight herbaceous note, as well as the musky quality you can get from the grape. I don’t get so much of that with other white wines like chenin blanc, gewürztraminer and riesling.”
One of Bell’s major goals in crafting sauvignon blanc is striking the right balance.
“I want to respect the delicacy of the wine and aromas without being too gentle,” he said.
Bell was studying general science courses at Grossmont College in San Diego, and working in a wine shop when he realized his calling.
“The light bulb went off — why not winemaking?” he said.
Bell transferred to UC Davis, graduating in 1994 with a degree in fermentation.
One of the most the most challenging aspects of making wine, Bell said, is resisting the compulsion to try every component you can imagine in a blend.
“You know the endless tinkering you can do,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to just go ahead and make a wine.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.