A few months ago I did a story for the paper featuring the under-appreciated Lake County. For much of its grape-growing history, this not-so-little wine region simply sold off its produce to its well-known neighbors, Napa and Sonoma Counties. But just within the last few years, there’s been somewhat of a boom in Lake County boutique wineries. The land here is more affordable — as are the grapes; the terroir and climate markedly different; and the people — well you’ll have to visit yourself to experience just how open and inviting they are to the few tourists who, admittedly, just seem to drive through on their way to Clear Lake camping.
One such pop-up is Gregory Graham, who’s probably best known for his years as head winemaker for Rombauer. Though he calls his decision to establish his vineyard and winery in Lake County “a lark” (indeed, he was one of the many who only visited Lake County on his way toward somewhere else), he now enjoys the land’s volcanic, rocky soils and Mediterranean-dry climate. Perfect conditions for growing one of the county’s heritage grapes, Sauvignon Blanc.
Speaking with Bill, Andy, and David — the trio behind Ammunition Wine — one thing became immediately clear to me: Their main goal is to produce focused, refined, small-batch wines — for the average punter. “Wine doesn’t have to be a luxury item,” says David Dees, Director of Sales for Ammunition Wine. Beyond an affordable price point, what Dees means, and what Whal (head winemaker) produces, are approachable wines of notable quality that any wine lover — whether novice or expert — will enjoy. Not just for special occasions, not only in front of your wine-snobby friends, but on any day of the week during any time of day — as long as the mood suits you.
I want to put New Zealand on the map as New World wines to watch. Previous to engaging with te Pa, I was sorely mistaken about the wines produced in this tiny country. Like many, I lumped NZ wines with neighboring Australian wines; like many, I assumed that overly fruit-forward white wines without body or texture were the norm; and like many, I came to these assumptions because of what the mass market puts in front of us on shelves and in restaurants. Let this not be the case and let te Pa make the case for New Zealand.
John Komes, co-owner of Flora Springs, may have a self-proclaimed love affair with Chardonnay, but his son Nate, general manager at the winery, is a fan-boy for Sauvignon Blanc. The Komes family have been farming the white grape for over three decades, utilizing the the two vineyards sourced for this bottle for the past two decades. Apparently there has been some talk about, and temptation to, graft these vines over to Cabernet Sauvignon (Flora Springs is well known for their big bold reds.) But with Nat’s encouragement, the family’s held back. And, personally, I’m glad they have. Well structured Sauvignon Blancs are hard to find — but with the clonal mix along with the combination of different aging techniques, that’s exactly what Flora Springs have produced with this 2016 vintage.
The Wairu Valley, another sub-region of New Zealand’s Marlborough wine country, is one the MacDonald family knows well, as their own little island of te Pa sits along the Wiaru Bar — where the Wairau River meets the sea. It’s a place the family has inhabited, land the family has cultivated, for the past 800 years.
Here, the land closest to the water is predominantly gravely riverbed soils, and the climate benefits from quite a bit of rainfall. Inland vineyards tend to be drier, and still cooler, and the soil quite stony, resulting in early-ripening grapes in some sites. The sub-region is known to produce fruit-forward wines. Of course that all depends on the vineyard and the vintner. te Pa Oke Sauvignon Blanc certainly takes a different approach.