by Fred McMillin
for July 29, 1997

Goodbye Grass

Prologue: The flavor of Sauvignon Blanc can range from fruit [gooseberries] to celery to freshly-cut grass. Increasing the exposure of the grapes to sunlight increases the fruit and reduces tbe grassiness.

—Dr. Marion Baldy, "The University Wine Course"

The Rest of the Story: So, one needs quite a bit of sunshine to make a grassless Sauvignon Blanc. Then how does the Davis Bynum Winery make such a good one in the foggy, cool Russian River Valley? Davis' son Hampton tells me they use special trellises that "open up the inside of the vines to light, yielding grapes that temper the grassy aspect of cool-region Sauvignon Blanc," Is it working? Well, Hampton says their 1996 is the best Blanc they've ever made. My tasters were very impressed with the unusual intensity of varietal flavors, not masked by oak, lees stirring, etc. If you want to learn more about the Blanc, buy a bottle.

1996 Sauvignon Blanc, Shone Farm, Russian River Valley
Davis Bynum Winery
Healdsburg, Sonoma County, CA
Food Affinities—Fish or chicken with an herb sauce

Postscript—The Name Game

  • Shone Farm—A state-of-the-art vineyard owned by the the Santa Rosa Junior College.

  • The Russian River Valley—In March 1812, 25 Russians landed near the mouth of what we now call the Russian River. This was a decade before the Spanish missionaries arrived in the area. The Russians farmed to provide food for their Alaskan colonies. They brought vines from South America and they, not the Spanish, made the first wine north of San Francisco.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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