So it’s International Sauvignon Blanc Day. I learned this when I turned on Twitter today. One day, when I’m a famous wine writer, I’ll know these things beforehand.
Since I don’t have a bottle on hand to dissect and photograph, I reflected on the myriad sauvignons I’ve had over the years, mostly grassy ones from New Zealand for under $20. Nothing competes with their racy acidity and vibrant greenness, but there are domestic bottles with their own personality.
One winery that stands out for me is Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc, California. I first heard of them via the movie Sideways. By now it’s over a decade old, but it hasn’t lost its piquant humor with me–like your annoying five-year-old nephew, I will quote characters or relay whole scenes to you whenever the slightest thing reminds me of it. I don’t know yet if Santa Barbara has outlived its Sideways reputation, somehow I doubt it. I like to go up there with Randy and enthusiastically remind him that we’re standing at the counter where Miles dumped the spit bucket all over himself (Fess Parker), or inside the tasting room where Jack learns to sniff wine (Alma Rosa). But I whisper it, so we don’t get kicked out.
Nerd that I am, I sat with a pencil and pad in front of the movie to catalog every wine they mention, so I could eventually go there. Fiddlehead is mentioned by Maya during the dinner date at the Los Olivos Cafe and Wine Merchant–you can see the scene here, it’s a small mention you only notice if you’re crazy, like me.
Fiddlehead is a small winery in a warehouse area referred to as the “wine ghetto.” They have the most distinct sauvignon blanc I have tasted yet in California; in fact, it’s the exact one Maya’s drinking in the movie. Every other domestic sauvignon, and for that matter, the great majority worldwide, are fermented and aged in stainless steel. My guess is that it’s easier to make a lot of it cheaply that way, and harder to mess up (the grape does so well with steel). But this one is fermented and aged in mostly French oak, giving it a richness I’d never experienced before.
I don’t know where we are are as a wine culture in our love/hate relationship with oak. I know about a year ago, it was all, “no oak!” It annoys me that chardonnay is being done in a “leaner” or “stainless” style these days. Oak never fell out of favor with me–I love it so much I can’t even analyze it’s flavor and aroma components–I just know there’s oak when I start waltzing around the tasting room and Randy has to stop me.
So you can imagine I was excited by this wine. Besides fermenting it in oak, the winemaker holds onto it for a few years, ensuring more depth than you would normally get from a bottle of everyday white. I remember the price was reasonable, so we took a bottle home. On top of that, the winemaker, Kathy Joseph, is female, and I always love knowing about women in wine. I salute Fiddlehead for taking a stand with oak, and being bold enough to apply it to a sauvignon blanc.