Wine of the Week: Peju 2018 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Fermentation is a curious process. In the simplest terms, yeast eats sugars and poof –– grapes become wine.
Sara Fowler has always been fascinated with the bewitching transformation involved in fermentation, whether brewing beer or making brandy.
“I had been making beer all throughout high school with my father,” said Fowler, now vice president of winemaking and vineyard operations at Napa Valley’s Peju Winery.
“We also used to take our family pears to St. George distillery in Alameda to turn them into pear brandy and eau de vie.”
Fowler is behind our wine of the week winner - the Peju 2018 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc at $25.
This is a lovely sauvignon blanc with layered aromas and flavors, buoyed by crisp acidity. Aromas of nectarine and pineapple give way to apricot and tangerine on the palate. It’s balanced and finishes crisp, a refreshing take on the varietal.
“I’m intent on making a food-friendly, quaffable wine with good acidity, one that people will ask for a second or third glass of,” Fowler said.
A layered approach in harvesting is what gives this sauvignon blanc an edge, she said.
“We had several calculated picks,” Fowler explained. “We had an early pick for some good natural acidity and citrus notes, a mid-pick for more tropical notes and a later pick that showcases more of the peach and flowery characters.”
Being a sauvignon blanc enthusiast, Fowler said, helps her with her craft.
“Aside from bubbles, sauvignon blanc tends to be my everyday white wine go to,” she said. “That said, because of my love of sauvignon blanc, I have a good sense of what is needed to make a solid, enjoyable one.”
The key to making a standout sauvignon blanc is threefold, Fowler said. It’s growing the best grapes possible, finding balance and staying true to your vision.
While Fowler, now 50, said she has a reverence for science, it’s the creativity of winemaking that has always been the most appealing to her.
“My original path was to become an artist, but that shifted after dropping out of college and living on a sailboat in Mexico for over a year,” she said. “Once I came back stateside, I did second harvest at Kendall-Jackson, where I finally really felt the pull of the creativity/artistic side of winemaking.”
Fowler went back to school to study Food Science with an emphasis in Fermentation Science at Fresno State.
“I’ve been happily making wine for the past 26 years,and becoming a winemaker was the best choice ever,” she said.
The winemaker said she likes to experiment, adding that even the occasional mishap can lead to interesting wines.
“My first year making sauvignon blanc at Peju, I ran out of tank space and I put a small percentage of the wine down to neutral oak barrels with some lees,” Fowler explained. “I had the sauvignon blanc barrels in with my chard barrels ,where they were accidentally stirred once a week. (This is normal practice on my chardonnay).
“The wine turned out great, providing a nice mid-palate. It wasn’t my original intent, but I’ve been stirring some of my sauvignon blanc with lees ever since.”