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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5310.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Spot-on sauvignon blancs
Dry Creek Vineyard
Dry Creek Vineyard, 2017 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 14.5% alcohol, $20. ★★★★1/2: Bravo. This sauvignon blanc is a standout because of its nuance of flavors and its supple texture. It’s complex, with notes of grapefruit, passion fruit and lemon curd. This sauvignon blanc is buoyed with bright acidity and finishes crisp. Striking.
Sidebar, 2016 High Valley, Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, $22. ★★★★: This smart sauvignon blanc is layered with notes of grapefruit, lemon and mineral. Balanced and refreshing, it continues to turn heads. Impressive.
Napa Cellars, 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 13.9%, $18. ★★★★: Alluring aromas of jasmine and lemon blossom reel you in, and on the palate there are notes of white peach, green apple and honey. This sauvignon blanc is pretty rather than edgy, but it’s appealing all the same.
J. Lohr, 2016 Arroyo Seco Monterey Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, $14. ★★★1/2: This sauvignon blanc is layered with notes of grapefruit, key lime and a kiss of honeysuckle. It’s balanced and has nice length. Tasty.
Chalk Hill, 2016 Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc, 14.1%, $33. ★★★★: This California-styled sauvignon blanc is fruit-forward with a touch of toast. It has a great quench with notes of grapefruit, lemon and mineral. Chalk Hill offers up a nice take on this version of sauvignon blanc.