Exploring Sauvignon Blanc clones

Sauvignon Blanc grape clusters


In our July post we talked about how two different rootstocks, SO4 and 1616C, reacted to late autumn frost last year in the new block of our Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.

Of the vines that succumbed to frost, 80% of them were SO4 and only 20% were 1616C. In viticultural terms, this is a highly significant result that will no doubt influence future Sauvignon Blanc plantings throughout the frost prone “Big Valley” AVA in Lake County.

It is interesting to see the vineyard as testing ground and not just the site of agricultural and economic production. There’s always something new to learn that will potentially benefit not only Dancing Crow Vineyards, but also, hopefully, winegrowers throughout the region. Without similar work and sharing done in the past by generations of growers both here in the US and in Europe, many of the current viticultural opportunities we enjoy simply wouldn’t exist.

In addition to experimenting with different rootstocks in the new block, we are also taking the opportunity to explore and evaluate the performance of four different clones of Sauvignon Blanc, among the more than 20 that are available.

Here’s what we have chosen to plant:

Sauvignon Blanc 1
SB1 was originally imported into California from Château d’Yquem in Bordeaux in 1884 by Charles Wetmore, who brought it to his vineyard in Livermore. The Wente family ultimately acquired the property sometime before 1925. Professor of Viticulture & Enology, Dr. Harold Olmo, collected samples for the UC Davis collection in 1958. SB 01 was first planted in the FPS (Foundation Plant Services) old foundation vineyard west of Hopkins Road in 1965. This clone is widely used in California and is also well known as the basis of the very successful New Zealand Sauvignon blanc industry, where it is known as UCD 1.

Sauvignon Blanc 530
This selection came to California from France in 1999 and is one of the few clones that comes from the original home of Sauvignon Blanc, France’s Loire Valley. This a purportedly earlier maturing clone, with a lighter crop and small juicy berries, that produce some of the most expressive and aromatic wines with good acid. Clone 530 also has some of the highest sugar levels, and the fruit offers an intriguing mix of tropical and citrus flavors.

Sauvignon Blanc 906
SB 906 is another more recent arrival, coming to California from France in 2005 and qualifying for the California Registration & Certification Program in 2007. SB 906, originated in the Gironde (Bordeaux) region of France and has been described as having an earlier maturity, good tolerance to bunch rot, producing very aromatic, full and balanced flavors. Our plantings of 906 at Dancing Crow are the first use of this clone in the Kelseyville area of Lake County.

Sauvignon Blanc 22
SB 22 is an Oakville Heritage selection from the Tokalon “I” Block, the oldest standing block of Sauvignon Blanc in California. Phil Freese, former Vice President of Wine Growing at Robert Mondavi Winery, encouraged UC Davis to preserve this plant material because he suspected that the vine might have been part of a very old vineyard that originated before the UC importation programs and modern Sauvignon blanc introductions. Pierre Galet, the famous French ampelographer, looked at this vine during one of his trips to California in the 1980’s and told Freese that it was ‘true Sauvignon blanc’.
This selection is known for producing wines with a fuller palate texture while retaining the distinctive aromas and flavors that are unique to Sauvignon blanc.
Dancing Crow’s plantings of this Heritage Selection (SB 22) are the first in Lake County.

As the vineyard matures, we will continue to explore the varied textures, aromas and flavors presented by this palette of clones and we hope that you, our customers, will benefit from the results of our experiment when you taste the finished wines.

Here are some further sensory evaluation notes on each clone from our winemakers, David and Katharine DeSante.

SB 1 – ability to exhibit key lime and tropical fruit flavors on the same vine. Can have a really vigorous canopy. A bit astringent when underripe – cilantro or lemongrass-like.

SB 530 – less green flavors early in the season. Apple and pear in the early season, more tropical later in the season. Less astringent skins.

SB 906 – later in the harvest, this grape has really tasty skins with a candied orange peel like flavor. Can produce a marmalade-like wine when very ripe and the skins turn gold in the sun. However, much more astringent when less ripe. Should be harvested last in our vineyards.

SB 22 – fuller texture and more tropical and melon like in flavor. Clusters are more round and less long. This may contribute to the way in which the berries ripen.

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