Better known as the star variety of New Zealand winemaking, Sauvignon Blanc is also grown across a number of Australian wine regions. Historically, from mothering Cabernet Sauvignon, and as the daughter of Savagnin, the variety found its way into Australian vineyards some time before 1970. Journalist Samuel Squire discovers the story behind Aussie-grown Sauvignon Blanc.
Beloved by consumers the world over, Sauvignon Blanc is, typically speaking, pungent, tart and aromatic with a categorically diverse flavour profile ranging from gooseberry through to cut grass.
The variety originates from France’s Loire Valley, and in the early 16th century, it was documented as “fiers”. Its modern-day name is based on two French words: “sauvage” which means “wild” and “vigne” which means “vine”.
According to Winespeed’s Karen MacNeil, one of America’s foremost wine presenters, Sauvignon Blanc is “a sibling of Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Silvaner, and Verdelho”.
MacNeil also stated that one of Sauvignon Blanc’s parent varieties was Savagnin, with the other parent undetermined at the time of writing.
In a previous Uncorked, the variety was briefly discussed to be one of the parent varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon: its mother.
It was when Sauvignon Blanc spread to the Bordeaux region of France in the mid-1750s that Cabernet Sauvignon was spontaneously created.
Interestingly, MacNeil wrote that, “Until the parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon was discovered via DNA typing by Dr Carole Meredith and her PhD student, John Bowers, at the University of California, Davis in 1996, it was not thought that a red grape could have a white grape as a parent”.
Wine Australia has attributed the success of Sauvignon Blanc in Australia as “inextricably linked to the rise in popularity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, mainly with the success of wines like Cloudy Bay from Marlborough”.
Interestingly, Sauvignon Blanc was one of the first varieties to be described in reference to one of its dominant flavour compounds, methoxypyrazines, according to retailer The Press Cellars.
The variety has often been made as a fresh, clean style in steel tanks, but producers are also experimenting with using oak as well.
The Press Cellars wrote that production of Sauvignon Blanc in Australia has increased more than 40 fold in the last 25 years, with plantings still increasing by around 20% per year.
Tony Allen, chief winemaker at Murray Darling producer Duxton Vineyards, has had diverse roles within the wine sector over the years.
Allen, in his role as Duxton’s chief winemaker, brings over 30 years of industry experience in winemaking, operations and sales. He joined Duxton following the acquisition of the Stanley Winery.
In his previous role at Accolade Wines, Allen worked as the director of commercial winery operations. In this role, he was responsible for winemaking and operations of the Stanley Winery and their Berri facility.
Allen started his winemaking career back in the 1990s.
“Back then, the winery was a cask production facility crushing mostly Sultana and Muscat Gordo grapes,” he said.
“The classic winegrape varieties began to grow in popularity throughout the ‘90s and as a result we began processing more Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.
“Duxton Vineyards grows approximately 70,000 tonnes of diverse grape varieties across the Southern Murray Darling region, over 7,000 tonnes of which are Sauvignon Blanc, making the varietal a substantial portion of our white intake.”
Allen says he thoroughly enjoys getting out into the vineyard to sample the Sauvignon Blanc grapes during the growing season and he also says the variety is easy to work with.
“We tend to pick the Sauvignon Blanc at different stages of maturity – some fruit early to give us a wine with more grassy, herbaceous notes and some on the riper spectrum which exhibit lovely passionfruit and gooseberry characters,” he said.
“However, it is a variety that can be disease prone in a wet year as Botrytis can take hold pretty quickly if we have rainy and humid conditions.
“The juice is generally pretty easy to process throughout the winery; it floats well, ferments reliably and is generally easy to manage through the winery.”
Allen says Sunraysia-made Sauvignon Blanc wines display all of the variety’s classical characters with a “delightful purity”.
The wines generally have a lifted aroma of tropical fruits, passionfruit and gooseberry. Upon tasting the wine “you will experience punchy tropical fruit flavour and intensely-wound passionfruit”.
“The juicy palate is beautifully balanced with refreshing acid. The wine finishes clean and crisp with a generous length of flavour,” he said.
Well suited to different growing conditions
The variety lends itself well to different growing conditions, Allen said, and while Sunraysia is not a region with a cool climate – conditions well-suited to Sauvignon Blanc – it nonetheless works well and presents something different in the end wine.
“Sunraysia is not considered a cool climate region, with temperatures often reaching over 40°C,” he said.
“Due to Duxton Vineyards’ commitment to environmental sustainability and sustainable wine production, we have fantastic microbial diverse soils, clean water, and a mostly dry growing season which helps produce these flavoursome varietal wines.
“The diversity of Sauvignon Blanc within Australia presents the consumer with many different styles of the wine which showcases its grapegrowing region, whether it be Tassie, the Adelaide Hills or Mildura. Ultimately, there’s a perfect Sauvignon Blanc for everyone.”
Duxton Vineyards harvests its Sauvignon Blanc during the coolest part of the day, with crushing generally starting at 10pm and often finished by mid-morning the next day.
“This is to minimise oxidation and preserve the aromatics in the juice,” Allen explained.
“The fruit is processed through bag presses and then floated using nitrogen gas to immediately remove any grape solids from the crushing process”.
“It is important to harvest on flavour to suit the style of wine you want to make. We also only use one particular yeast strain for our Sauvignon Blanc – a thiol-producing yeast which produces a lot of sulphites during ferment.
“Ferment management and nutrition is very important in producing bright and fresh wines. Cool fermentation temperatures and nitrogen additions during ferment help us produce these flavoursome wines which exhibit the attractive characteristics Sauvignon Blanc is known for.”
Allen says the increase in popularity in Sauvignon Blanc in Australia over the last two or three years has been impressive.
“Sauvignon Blanc is one of the first varieties we sell out of each year and sales of Duxton’s own brand, Pete’s Pure, have risen immensely in the last 12-24 months,” he said.
“We sell most of our Sauvignon Blanc domestically as bulk wine, but have been getting more and more interest internationally in the last year.”