Sauvignon blanc: embracing the funk!
After spending many years making wine in Ontario, I had serious doubts about whether sauvignon blanc was a variety that I could do well with. That all changed in the winter of 2009. That year, after harvest, I took a trip to New Zealand to work crush down there and to study what makes sauvignon tick.
Sauv blanc is a French grape. It is a significant component of white Bordeaux, including Sauternes, and it is also the predominant white grape in the Loire Valley, where it dominates Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Quincy, and Touraine.
Even though it is a grape with its own distinctive character, its expression is very different in other parts of the world, depending on the climate, soil, and winemaking techniques. Personally, I think the “ultimate” sauv blanc is coming from New Zealand and in making it for my own label, I wanted to craft it in the New Zealand style. Since we are one of the only wineries in Prince Edward County making a varietal sauv blanc, I wanted ours to be the flagship for what is possible here. Plus, just from a personal standpoint, I wanted to make a wine that I could enjoy and be proud of.
On to New Zealand: Embracing the Funk
The time I spent in New Zealand was certainly eye-opening. What I learned was that with sauvignon blanc—as with most winemaking—less is always more. You don’t want to push the fruit to over-ripen. You don't over-handle it. You need to keep the air away from it, emphasize the acidity, stir the lees, and above all – embrace the funk!
Yes, it’s true … during fermentation, sauvignon blanc smells wild, and that’s an understatement. It’s brilliant: it’s got loads of bright citrus fruit and searing acidity, but it’s also funky – fruit and stank in equal measures. A less experienced winemaker might be nervous at that point, wondering what they could do to make a correction, but the truth is – it changes on its own. The “stank”, as I like to call it, is simply part of the natural process and a normal, expected part of fermentation.
If you are as focused on making natural wine as we are here at Traynor Family Vineyards, you need to allow the juice to go through its own life process. I liken sauv blanc to an unruly teenager who’s going through a “phase”: you don’t punish, you don’t try to change it, you just need to let it go and be patient because it will come back to you!
What’s in the glass
The Traynor Family Sauvignon Blanc is made very much in the New Zealand style: crisp, clean, and bracing with a solid core of citrus fruit, tart gooseberry, and herbal notes with just a touch of residual sugar. Keep in mind – just because it has a little residual doesn’t mean it’s sweet. A little touch of sugar helps to lift the fruit and broaden the palate.
Our Traynor devotees love it, and so do we. Even when you know it’s pretty good, it’s always nice to get validation. It’s my go-to wine in the summer and I hope you will love it too. Like all of our wines, the production is very small – only 250 bottles, so it doesn’t last long. I do a whole-cluster ferment, which means we are treating it more like a red wine than a white. It gets a wild ferment on the skins, which lasts about 10 days, yielding a massive white wine with layers and layers of complexity.
Unlike many cool-climate sauv blancs, ours is a fruit bomb. It’s got all the grapefruit citrus typicity coupled with a pronounced herbal accompaniment. Grassy notes give way to white grapefruit and quince and it finishes with an exotic, slightly spicy note. It’s got plenty of crisp acidity and just a hint of sweetness (from the alcohol, not sugar – it’s perfectly dry) and a soft, lingering finish.
Sometimes, all I want is a delicious glass of wine to quench my thirst and make me smile, and this one always hits the spot.
Pair it up with goat cheese (try Grey Owl – it’s perfection!) and sun-dried black olives, oysters with mignonette, Hawaiian pizza, or fresh-caught pickerel with a lemon beurre blanc. Cheers!