A few entries back I described a conversation with winemaker Joel Gott, and I mentioned that I’d follow up with some notes about his Sauvignon Blanc. The idea was that I’d go through the wine facts with him, and get him to comment. It was a shorter talk than the one about his Zinfandel, but interesting nonetheless. The wine facts look like this:
Grapes: 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc
Appellation: Monterey County, Lake County, and Napa Valley
Harvest Dates: September 10, 18, and October 13
Harvest Brix: 22.1–24.0
Fermentation: 100 percent stainless steel fermentation
Alcohol: 13.6 percent
Release Date: March 15, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $11
The fact that he’s using 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc didn’t prompt much discussion, but the appellations did—and the implied blending of fruit from different areas. This sort of thing is central to what Gott does: Rather than playing the estate-bottling game, he trades that cachet for the freedom to source grapes from all over the place and to make the best wines he can at a reasonable price. This means there’s less on the label signifying quality—fewer of the usual indicators, I mean, pointing to small properties and single vineyards and the like—and a requirement that a consumer just trust the guy. (As more than a few do.)
“The Monterey stuff,” Gott told me, “well, we got these awesome growers down there, and that’s our New Zealand or Southern Hemisphere component, grassy and tropical. Lake County is all about the mineral quality out of that red volcanic soil. It’s a little harder style, so it’s a good balancing act for the Monterey stuff, and in Russian River Valley, it’s more of that coastal component, a lot of fruit and midpalate stuff. It’s warmer than Monterey over there, but it’s not as hot as Lake County. So I guess you could think about it this way: We’re getting aromatics from the Monterey stuff, the mouthfeel from the Russian River, and that top level out of Lake County.”
And why the different harvest dates? The answer to this one wasn’t complicated: Grapes in different regions ripen at different moments. Gott can’t have grapes sitting around, though, waiting for the rest of the fruit to ripen, so he told me they make the Monterey component right there in King City, south of San Jose, and then truck it up later. The rest of the wine, the Lake County and Russian River stuff, they truck right over to St. Helena for pressing and fermentation.
And why the range in Brix (a.k.a. the sugar content of the grapes at the time they’re picked)?
“The range in Brix just shows the difference in the growing areas.”
What I enjoy about these conversations is only partly the factual data they offer—which, admittedly, isn’t a ton in this case. The other part, the larger part, is the chance to hear how winemakers talk about these things, to hear what it means to them and therefore what it might mean to us. I enjoy also the craftsmanship element—not in some mystical artisanal sense, but in a more practical sense. These guys practice a trade, and they don’t talk about it like it’s a big mystery. They talk about it like a job.
And while we’re at it, by the way, I want to mention that it’s a good job: Gott’s Sauvignon Blanc is a great value at $11, crisp and clean, and well balanced and food-friendly, as I learned when I paired it with a salad of radicchio, Asian pear, and Truffle Tremor goat cheese. But of course, that was the same night my friend Amy broke her arm during the main course and stuck around through dessert, so the wines got a little overshadowed by all the drama.