As winemaker for Crozet, Virginia’s Stinson Vineyards, Rachel Stinson Vrooman is more than aware that Viognier is the state’s semi-official signature grape. Yet, she doesn’t make one. “I think there are some beautiful ones being made in Virginia, she says, “(But) we decided from the outset not to make a Viognier. It is a difficult grape to work with and to be honest, I don’t miss it in our production!” she says.
Instead, a portion of her family’s seven-acre vineyard is dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc — a variety not without its own challenges in humid Central Virginia. Planted in the coolest part of their vineyard to slow ripening and improve flavor development, it still takes work to get the most from the grape.
“We also do a ton of vineyard work in this block – shoot thinning and positioning so the vines aren’t too vigorous but still have plenty of canopy to ripen, and careful leaf pulling so the berries are shielded from sunburn but still have enough exposure,” Vrooman says.
Then there is Virginia’s notorious humidity and the threat of hurricanes every fall. With its tight clusters and skins that thin as they ripen, Sauvignon Blanc is particularly susceptible to late-season rot — making harvest decisions paramount. “We are looking for that moment when the flavors change from green and vegetal to slightly peachy and floral,” Vrooman says. “After that, we just keep an eye on the acid and the weather.”
Of the many wines I tasted leading up to and during the 2017 Virginia Wine Summit, the Stinson Vineyards 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($24) stood out — and not just because it was the only Sauvignon Blanc.
Many of the Viogniers were inconsistent. There were a couple standouts but most were just okay. Some were flabby and tired. Some lacked true Viognier character. Others were clouded by new oak barrels or were too boozy.
Then there was this Sauvignon Blanc — impeccably balanced, displaying plenty of varietal character, with well-integrated acidity and a mouthfeel that straddles the line between richness and verve.
That texture is thanks in part to 50% concrete egg fermentation, something the winery started doing with the 2011 vintage. The stainless steel 50% is partly fermented in stainless steel barrels, which allow for more lees contact, and partly in larger, temperature-controlled tanks, which, according to Vrooman “preserve more delicate aromas that would blow off during a hotter ferment.”
Did I mention that the wine is only 12% abv? Because it is.
“We do always aim for a lower ABV with this wine,” Vrooman says. “My preference is around 12 to 12.5%. Some years we have to chaptalize in order to even get it to that point (but) I would rather chaptalize than risk compromising the acid and the integrity of the fruit.”
As the Virginia wine industry seeks out new vineyard sites — sites chosen expressly for grape growing — in cooler, higher-elevation regions, it seems like Sauvignon Blanc might have a bigger future. “Virginia absolutely has more potential for Sauvignon Blanc,” Vrooman says. “We have a very different climate and terroir here than other growing regions, but with careful site selection and vineyard management, it can be a successful variety that expresses itself as uniquely Virginian.”
Strikingly aromatic with passionfruit and peach, a squirt of lime juice and a sprinkling of sea salt. Medium-light body with nice fruit concentration and weight. Sweet citrus, </em>peach<em> and passionfruit flavors are accented by a floral herbaceousness, juicy, citrusy acidity and a saline streak. Long finish of pithy citrus and minerals. Maybe the best East Coast Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted this year.
Retail Price: $24