Capturing the intensity in a sauvignon blanc grape requires pinpoint precision when picking. In Napa Valley Mother Nature may grant you a four-day window or simply 48 hours.
Richie Allen knows the odds, and that’s why during harvest he tracks Mother Nature’s every move as if he were a detective.
Allen’s sleuthing is definitely working in his favor. The winemaker is behind our wine-of-the-week winner –– Rombauer Vineyards, 2017 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc at $24.
The sauvignon blanc has impeccable balance, with an irresistible yin-yang of flavors –– lime and tropical fruit. The Rombauer also has notes of grapefruit and mineral in the mix.
“We try to skirt the middle ground between Napa and New Zealand styles,” Allen said. “We want it ripe but not overripe. We want to dance the line between the two. We want to stand out in the middle.”
The winemaker said some people refuse to drink sauvignon blanc because they think they’re all racy high acid, leafy wines.
“Most people have a love-hate relationship with sauvignon blanc,” he said. “But when they try my sauvignon blanc, they like it. I tell people to try them. Some will tickle their fancy.”
Allen said he has an analytical approach to making sauvignon blanc.
“I try to find what constitutes the right balance to make it so people can’t put it down and it comes back to the right balance,” he said.
Allen said he realized his calling to be a winemaker when he was mesmerized by the diversity of a flight of wines in Amador County. The lineup included a zinfandel, a tempranillo and a barbera.
“They all tasted so different,” he said. “I didn’t realize wines could taste so different.”
Allen went back to his native Australia after his California trip and immediately changed his major to enology. He graduated from the University of Adelaide in 2002.
Six years later he joined Rombauer as a harvest intern and in 2008 he earned the title winemaker.
Allen said it took five years to convince the late Koerner Rombauer to produce a sauvignon blanc, but in 2014 the winery’s initial 1,000 cases sold out in three weeks.
Passion is a requirement when you enter the world of winemaking, he said.
“You definitely have to be a little neurotic to be a winemaker because it’s not so much of a career as it is a lifestyle,” Allen said, with a laugh. “When you’ve worked three 22-hour days in a row and on the fourth one, you’ve got to get out of bed and say ‘This is fun.’”
Wine Writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or at 707-521-5310.