I have long been a huge admirer of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, wines made from sauvignon blanc in the variety’s traditional home of the Loire Valley in France. But Marlborough sauvignon blanc has never done it for me. Although strangely, I can remember the very first time I tasted Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
It was 1990 and I was flying to New Zealand for a skiing holiday. The airline served Montana 1989 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and I have to admit it captured my attention and tantalised my tastebuds. I had rarely been assaulted with such aroma and flavour intensity. It was a short lived fascination but I can easily understand why the style has captured so many fans.
So, when I arrived at Printhie to take up the winemaker role I was no disciple of sauvignon blanc, at least in a new world context. However, the Orange region had just announced that it had adopted sauvignon blanc as its ‘hero’ variety and sauvignon blanc sales were exploding in the market.
Clearly, making distinctive, regional sauvignon blanc of high quality was going to be an important part of my winemaking efforts. In the vintages since then, Printhie sauvignon blanc production has grown 5 fold and the quality has reached a very high level (3 trophies, 4 gold medals, 3 silver medals).
Which is all very pleasing but the greatest change has been with me. I have found a new respect and admiration for this noble variety. I really enjoy making sauvignon blanc. There are some great challenges (all varieties have their challenges) and it is capable of making some seriously great wine, not just quaffing wine for a hot summer afternoon.
What I find most disappointing is the attitude of some, in fact many, fellow wine industry professionals.
At wine shows, it seems that being allocated to judge the sauvignon blanc class is the booby prize. The variety is constantly derided and de-valued by negative opinion. Australian wine producers are suffering under the so-called ‘tsumani’ of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, even in the domestic market, where they are losing sales and shelf space to the New Zealanders. Everyone complains but is anyone rising to the challenge?
Instead of asking what other variety can topple New Zealand sauvignon blanc , how about rising to the challenge and producing top flight Australian sauvignon blanc. Show a little love and respect for sauvignon blanc and reap the rewards – Printhie is certainly having a go. This year we invested a lot of effort into trialling a reserve sauvignon blanc for the Mt Canobolas Collection. We are looking for a different expression of sauvignon blanc. We are not trying to beat the varietial character out of the wine, as some producers are with alternate styles to the fruit bomb are. We want to respect the varietal characteristics. It may have less fruit intensity but it will also have layers of flavours and texture with underlying complexity in a wine that will continue to reveal nuance and interest as it sits in the glass and opens up – a little like great chardonnay can.
This is our vision for sauvignon blanc – respect and nurturing, the style must evolve to meet the challenge head-on and produce wines of the highest quality and with the greatest level of interest.