Basics: California’s “Other White” Grape Is Worth Getting to Know | Wine Enthusiast
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California’s “Other White” Grape Is Worth Getting to Know

For decades, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have dominated plantings and sales. But with the realization that climate change is not only affecting what grapes can be grown where (scientists warn that up to 85% of the world’s current winegrowing regions could disappear due to warming) but also potentially ushering in new diseases and pests, growers are putting new grapes in the ground.

“I decided to plant about an acre of Sauvignon Gris in 2019 after enjoying extremely high-quality wines made from it in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley,” Gustavo Gonzalez, winemaker at Napa’s Mira Winery, says of this gray mutation of Sauvignon Blanc. “It is not planted in high volumes anywhere— only about 70 tons were harvested in California the year we planted it—because it is extremely low-yielding.”

In California, where more than 100 varieties are grown, Sauvignon Gris didn’t even merit its own line item in the latest California Grape Acreage Report from California’s Department of Food and Agriculture. Instead, Gris is presumably being counted under the “other white wine” line item.

Mira, which has just over 10 acres under vine on its Yountville estate, rolled the dice on the low-yielding, relatively unknown grape because of its outstanding winemaking potential.

“The grapes are smaller than what you find with Sauvignon Blanc, and are therefore much more concentrated, with different flavor elements,” Gonzalez explains. “Sauvignon Blanc can be tart and on the citrusy or tropical side. Sauvignon Gris can be spicier and plays with your palate because it’s high in acid but feels fuller and richer than most high-acid wines. In the end, it’s more luxurious and can be transformed into something very special.”

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Last year, Gonzalez produced both a Mira Estate white blend with Sauvignon Gris and Blanc, and a 2021 Ovum Aureum, a 100% Sauvignon Gris made in the winery’s French oak egg-shaped fermenter, dubbed the Ovum—the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

“The response has been extraordinary,” Gonzalez says. “I want to plant more.”

Another vintner eager to see what can be done with Sauvignon Gris is William Allen, founder and winemaker at Two Shepherds in Windsor, California.

“I am fascinated by gray-skinned grapes,” Allen says. “Sauvignon Gris will be my third skin-contact gray wine…Wine country is sadly lacking in terms of viticultural diversity, and I am always on the hunt for new grapes to work with. We need to be pushing boundaries and exploring more possibilities, instead of relying on the same handful of grapes.”

Allen, who sourced two tons of Sauvignon Gris from the team at Mira, plans five days of skin contact, and will determine how to age it depending on “what happens during fermentation.”

Both Allen and Gonzalez tout Sauvignon Gris’ food-pairing power: “It is so rich, but also balanced and dry; it can cover a lot of bases,” Gonzalez says. “Personally, I love it with spicy South Asian and Mexican cuisine.”

Quick Facts

  • Grape: Sauvignon Gris
  • Mutation Of: Sauvignon Blanc
  • Wine Styles: Dry, still, skin-contact
  • Aromas/Flavors: High acid, with tropicality and notable spice
  • Food Pairing: Spicy cuisines, especially South Asian and Mexican (Recommendations: beef pho, chicken tamales or mole poblano)

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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