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