Meet the winemaker

Winemakers on Australian sauvignon blanc

By Halliday Promotion

17 May, 2021

Bright and fresh or nuanced and textural? Three winemakers explain why this classic white is not to be mistaken for simple.

Sauvignon blanc originally came to prominence in France in the Loire Valley. More locally, the variety has been successful in cooler climate regions across Australia and New Zealand, with a reputation for being simplistic and fruity – perhaps unfairly so. This versatile variety actually has one of the largest flavour spectrums of all, with characteristics varying greatly depending terroir and fruit-ripeness when picked.

The following three producers, from opposite corners of the country, explain how they make bright, food-friendly and sophisticated examples that suit all seasons.

Alex Van Driel, Nocton Vineyard – TAS
H. How do you make sauvignon blanc at your winery?
A. Our preferred style to make is a crisp, bright-bodied and dry wine with plenty of acidity. The Coal River Valley region is known for its longer ripening times and grapes are harvested early to preserve flavour and retain high acidity. The fruit is then processed to avoid excessive oxidation and fermented in stainless steel tanks on lees for three months to attain firm natural texture and good palate weight. We are constantly adapting the vineyards to changes in climate by monitoring irrigation, increasing our inputs to organic fertilisers and protectants, and adopting best practices. The wine from these 20-year-old vines has become more predictable, consistently displaying crisp apple and lychee (and sometimes citrus) flavours.

H. How is this variety best enjoyed?
A. Sauvignon blanc is a versatile variety that makes a wonderful companion to seafood, salads, cheese and spicy asian food. Its flavour profile matches well to fresh, intense flavours and is delicious across all seasons. These wines are best served cold – between six and eight degrees – in chilled glass. Our 2019 Nocton Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is a light, dry wine with flavours of fresh green apples and lychees, with tropical fruit aromas.

Stuart Pym, Flowstone – WA
H. How would you describe sauvignon blanc?
S. Sauvignon blanc is a variety of wonderful aromatics. The popular expression is bright and fruity, and perfect for a warm afternoon, but the Flowstone expression is more subtle and nuanced – it is serious and sophisticated. I love the diversity of styles this variety produces and my eyes were really opened to its potential when I visited the Loire in 1998. This visit, and the subsequent ones after, showed me just how stylish sauvignon blanc can be when taken seriously. It perfectly suits the first course of any meal, especially seafood – or can be enjoyed with some lovely chevre at any time.

H.  How do you approach the winemaking process?
S. My approach starts in the vineyard, making sure crops aren’t high, and vine condition and canopy is perfect for fruit ripening. Our vineyard is in the cooler, southern parts of Margaret River which allows us to get beautifully ripe grapes and retain some elegance. Winemaking is done with delicacy and understanding, with respect for the grapes. Our sauvignon blanc is hand-picked, fermented in large French oak barrels for a year and then spends 18 months in bottle prior to release. This patience really helps to deliver wines of complexity and nuance.

Jimi Leinert, Hesketh Wine Company – multi-regional SA
H. Why do you love to make this variety?
J. Sauvignon blanc grows very well in many climates and soil types, and allows its 'place' to come through in the wine easily. Depending on where it is grown, fruit flavours can range from delicate white peaches to more robust and concentrated passionfruit. Our sauvignon blanc from Kongorong is extremely aromatic, so we focus our winemaking techniques on bringing out the character of the region. Fruit from the Kongorong area (near Mt Gambier) is similar in many ways to the Loire Valley in France – the style was initially made as an experiment to replicate the fine wines of Sancerre.

H. What is unique about your product and how it is made?
J. Our sauvignon blanc is made with highly oxidative open fermentation and lots of aeration through hand-plunging. The wine is then matured in seasoned white oak on lees for about nine months for further development. These methods build texture and also reduce the concentration of the methoxypyrazines (responsible for the green, herbaceous characters of sauvignon blanc) to create a fine and elegant white. Because no two vintages are ever the same, you can’t really follow a recipe to the letter – but this is a good thing as it leads to the constant development of new production methods, styles and techniques.

This article was produced in partnership with the featured wineries.

Top image credit: Wine Australia / Ian Routledge