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5 places to try Dry Creek Valley’s white-wine standard: sauvignon blanc

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In 1972, David Stare founded the first new winery in Dry Creek Valley since Prohibition. He had local grape growers scratching their heads over his first choice of grape to plant: sauvignon blanc.

Stare admired the white wines produced from this variety in France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions. There was no precedent for cultivation of sauvignon blanc in Dry Creek Valley. Even so, he trusted his gut (and tastes), ignored consultants’ recommendations to plant chardonnay, gewurztraminer, merlot and cabernet sauvignon and went all-in on sauv blanc.

It was a prescient move. Not only did the variety become the most successful wine for the Stare family’s Dry Creek Vineyard winery northwest of Healdsburg — it now produces five versions under winemaker Tim Bell — it also set the tone for other valley wineries and growers to make sauvignon blanc Dry Creek Valley’s white-wine standard, a counterpart to more traditional zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.

“Consumers like our (sauvignon blancs) because they are elegant and nuanced, with a lot of complexity,” said Kim Stare Wallace, the company’s president and David’s daughter. “We develop a lot of fans for our (sauvignon blancs) because we have a variety of different flavor profiles, and our wines are often used as educational tools to train people on the variety. They reflect the different vineyards and terroir of our region.”

At nearby Quivira Vineyards, Hugh Chappelle produces four sauvignon blancs, each distinct in flavor and aroma profile and suiting myriad palates. From the widely available Dry Creek Valley bottling to the top-flight Q Collection Sauvignon Blanc, Quivira’s offerings are a big draw for visitors.

“We are certainly a destination winery for the varietal,” said General Manager Jim Connell. “Hugh has built our reputation as a sauvignon blanc leader in Dry Creek Valley. He’s shown what the potential is for the grape, and it’s not just us.”

Generally, Dry Creek Valley has sandy loam and river-strewn, well-drained gravelly soils, which suit sauvignon blanc. Herbal notes are a sensory signature of the varietal, although the finest Dry Creek Valley examples contrast the grape’s pungent personality (fresh and dried herbs, just-cut grass, even jalapeño) with tangy grapefruit, lime and Meyer lemon fruitiness and brisk, mouthwatering acidity.

Complexity and tasteable differences in the wines come from any number of methods. Stainless steel fermentation and aging are common. A growing number of winemakers are using oak barrel fermentation and aging, too.

Chappelle likes to use acacia wood barrels to age small portions of wine. Another tool is to blend with semillon (as is done in Bordeaux) or stir in the spent yeast cells with the wine after fermentation, which can add mouth feel and weight.

Most Dry Creek Valley producers offer sauvignon blanc, although some go an extra mile with the grape. Here are five wineries to visit for scintillating sauv blancs:

Armida Winery: During its 25 years in business, Armida has evolved from a sourcer of grapes largely from Dry Creek Valley to one that taps several Sonoma County regions for fruit for its wines. Its sauvignon blancs have moved to Russian River Valley sources, primarily its Redwood Road Estate, yet the winery is solidly rooted in Dry Creek Valley. Its lineup includes the 2018 Redwood Road Estate Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28), 2017 Redwood Road Estate Sauvignon Blanc Musqué clone ($30) and 2017 Domus Alba White Wine California, a proprietary blend of barrel-fermented and barrel-aged sauvignon blanc from Russian River Valley and semillon from Mendocino County ($40). 2201 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-2222, armida.com

Dry Creek Vineyard: From its first fumé blanc (sauvignon blanc) in 1972, Dry Creek Vineyard has excelled in Loire Valley/Sancerre-like white wines. Fumé blanc is the flagship bottling, widely available and smartly priced ($16). Over time, the winery has added a Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($20); DCV3 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($28) from the original vineyard block; Taylor’s Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28), made entirely from the floral, exotic musqué clone of the grape and the relatively new 2018 The Mariness Meritage ($35), sister to the winery’s The Mariner Bordeaux-style red blend. Mariness is 90% sauvignon blanc and 5% each of muscadelle and semillon; it’s rich and mouth filling. The Soleil Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc ($45) guilds the lily, giving Dry Creek Vineyard six sauv blanc offerings, if one includes this dessert wine. 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-1000, drycreekvineyard.com

Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery: Three generations of the Kreck family have been involved in grape growing and winemaking at this southern Dry Creek Valley winery. Grapes were first planted in 1965, and nine years later, wine production began with chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Today, owners Bill and Yvonne Kreck and their middle son, winemaker Jeremy Kreck, count sauvignon blanc as a key varietal for their location. The star is the 2017 Vera’s Block Estate Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($27), a 50-50 mix of stainless steel- and barrel-fermented lots. But don’t miss, if it’s available, the small-production, 2018 Heather’s Cuvée Estate Dry Creek Valley ($25), which combines the citrus and tropical fruit character of sauvignon blanc with spice and floral notes from gewurztraminer. 1401 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-2121, millcreekwinery.com

Peterson Winery: This 30-year-old winery is best known for zinfandel and other bold red wines, but proprietor Fred Peterson and his winemaker son, Jamie, had a deft hand with sauvignon blanc. Their 2018 Redwood Glen Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($21) comes from a vineyard near the border of southern Dry Creek Valley and northern Russian River Valley and brims with bracing citrus and tropical fruit flavors. The 2017 Olas White Wine Sonoma Valley ($28) is 60% sauvignon blanc and 40% semillon, a rendition of classic Bordeaux blanc. To find enough semillon for the blend, Fred Peterson bought grapes from Bill Hawley’s Las Olas Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. It’s richer and more substantial than many Dry Creek sauvignon blanc-based wines, thanks to the semillon, yet finishes crisp and juicy. 4791 Dry Creek Road, Building 7 (at Timber Crest Farms), 707-431-7568, petersonwinery.com

Quivira Vineyards: The winery is devoted to what it calls “holistic” farming, including organic and biodynamic practices. On tours, visitors get a look at the estate’s vegetable gardens, beehives, grazing chickens, cows and pigs. Still, the wine is the main draw, and sauvignon blanc takes center stage. Winemaker Hugh Chappelle takes advantage of the estate’s clonal diversity, French oak and acacia barrels and uses semillon as a blending tool to produce a wide range of sauvignon blancs, each with its own personality. Start with the pleasantly pungent 2018 Dry Creek Valley bottling ($18), then move up a notch in complexity to the 2017 Fig Tree Vineyard Dry Creek Valley ($24) or the less herbal, more rounded 2017 Alder Grove ($24). If it’s available for tasting, try the 2017 Q Collection Wine Creek Ranch Dry Creek Valley ($35), made from the nine best lots of barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc. 4900 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-8333, quivirawine.com

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