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.
North Coast Wine Challenge winners
Best of the Best: Kokomo 2016 Pinot Noir Gopher Hills Block Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast
Best of Show Red: Kokomo 2016 Pinot Noir Gopher Hills Block Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast
Best of Sonoma County: Kokomo 2016 Pinot Noir Gopher Hills Block Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast
Best of Show White: J. Rickards Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Croft Vineyard Alexander Valley
Best of Show Rose: Rodney Strong Vineyards 2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
Best of Show Sparkling: Domaine Carneros 2013 Brut
Best of Show Dessert Wine: Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards 2015 Late Harvest Chardonnay
Best of Lake County: Cache Creek Vineyards 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County
Best of Marin County: DeLoach Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir Marin County
Best of Mendocino: Soda Rock 2016 Chardonnay Mendocino
Best of Napa County: Mudita 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Circle S Ranch Atlas Peak Napa
Best of Sonoma County: Kokomo 2016 Pinot Noir Gopher Hill Block Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast