Meet the winemaker

The two sides to sauvignon blanc

By Halliday Promotion

28 Apr, 2020

Bright and fresh or nuanced and textural? Six 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 has one of the largest flavour spectrums of all, depending on its terroir and fruit-ripeness when picked. These West and South Australian winemakers are self-proclaimed sauvignon advocates, utilising ancient French techniques to create modern styles.

  • Bruce Dukes – Domaine Naturaliste, WA

  • Talented winemaker and agronomist Bruce Dukes is the man behind Domaine Naturaliste, a label dedicated to holistic and sustainable viticulture. His Sauvage Sauvignon Blanc is a highly textural expression of the variety. “Sauvignon thrives in Margaret River because the variety can develop lovely amounts of fragrance, flavour and texture while maintaining succulent natural acidity,” Bruce says. “I particularly value the high-level aromas and complex flavours which hint at redcurrant, cassis, lemon and flint. This wine is about allowing great fruit to express its personality.”  

    The Sauvage is named after the natural vineyard yeast that begins the wine’s fermentation. “The wine ferments in large-format French oak puncheons and matures in the same puncheon over the following 10 months. The large-format oak allows a gentle ingress of flavour elements while maintaining freshness,” Bruce says. “As the wine matures sur lie, or on the lees, we play it lovely music and battonage [manually stir up the yeast sediment] every fortnight. Gradually, elements of the yeast’s personality combine with elements of the fruit to create an ethereal level of excitement.” The Domaine Naturaliste Sauvage makes for a superb accompaniment to medium flavour and density winter dishes – chill lightly and enjoy, or cellar for up to seven years to see the development of the redcurrant, lemon verbena and toast characteristics. Pictured 3/6 above. Find out more.

  • Damian Hutton – Millbrook, WA

  • Boutique winery Millbrook is located in the historic town of Jarrahdale in Western Australia. The brand’s regional wine range highlights the quality and diversity of viticulture across the state, allowing winemakers like Damian Hutton to pick the best fruit for each wine.
    “The grapes we use are from a single vineyard in northern Margaret River. The vineyard is very dense and on a hill, so you naturally get a variety of fruit flavours where the vines are exposed to different conditions,” he says. “Our winemaking has evolved over the years; we are always striving to make the most interesting, unique and delicious wines. In 2014, we introduced barrel fermenting, adding complexity and elevating this style to the next level.” 

    “The word that comes to mind when I think about sauvignon blanc is ‘fun’,” Damian says. “From a winemaking perspective, it’s uncomplicated – you get immediate pleasure right at the start. If you pick the grapes at the right time and the juice comes in fresh, you know it is going to be good.” In the Millbrook Regional Sauvignon Blanc, Damian likes to see vibrant and distinctive fruit characteristics, and the key to achieving these is attention to detail. “It is important to keep everything super pristine and clean throughout the process,” he says. “This is to ensure we preserve the aromatics at all times. You want to showcase the freshness and purity – that’s what sauvignon blanc is all about.” Pictured 4/6 above. Find out more.

  • Brad Rey – Zonte’s Footstep, SA

  • Zonte’s Footstep wines are produced from regions across South Australia, depending on which is best suited to the varietal. For sauvignon blanc, the fruit is sourced from vineyards in the Adelaide Hills. “The citrus and white floral aromas in this wine are typical of the region,” says vigneron Brad Rey. “Sauvignon blanc is all about the line and length of acidity; it is a wine that both cleanses and refreshes the palate. It’s perfect for warm days and with fresh Aussie seafood.” Brad loves this wine for its aromatics, but even more so for its ability to cut through rich and bold flavours in food such as shellfish and soft, blue vein cheeses. 

    The Zonte’s winemaking process is 95 per cent in the vineyard and five per cent in the winery. “The picking times play a big part in being able to emulate minerality and acid "line and length" – as well as those prominent fruit flavours and aromas,” Brad says. “In the winery, tricks of trade learnt far and near are employed, but like any good magician, you don’t give up your secrets!” Though Brad will share one hint: it’s all in the dirt. “It’s the only thing we have different from our neighbours and, for us, it’s this sense of place that we try to depict in our whites. We try to preserve the variety’s true expression, lifting it with the subtlest of winemaking.” Pictured 1/6 above. Find out more.

  • Greg Clack – Chain of Ponds, SA,

  • The Chain of Ponds Adelaide Hills range has the distinct purpose of “allowing the fruit to be the star”. Winemaker Greg Clack knows how integral this philosophy is when it comes to making sauvignon blanc. “Sauvignon blanc is one of the most enjoyable grapes to taste on the vine. You get a real sense of the finished wine from the fruit,” he says. “This fruit-driven, aromatic wine can display a great balance between citrus notes and tropicals, but also has a very distinct herbaceous lift and excellent crisp finish. The cooler climate of the Adelaide Hills produces a delicate balance of these characters.” 

    According to Greg, the cool-but-sunny climate of the Adelaide Hills, combined with careful harvest decisions and attention to detail in juice preparation, is crucial to retaining purity and delicacy in the finished product. “We select blocks from several vineyards throughout the Adelaide Hills, stretching almost 60 kilometres from Kuitpo to Birdwood,” he says. “We aim to preserve the individual vineyard characteristics with gentle pressing, cool fermentation and varietal enhancing yeast before subtle lees contact, to build complexity and mouthfeel.” While the winemaking hasn’t changed significantly over the years, Greg and his team are constantly working on building texture and mouthfeel into the wine, all while maintaining its varietal typicity. “Enjoy this wine with a group of friends over a shared meal in the warm afternoon sun,” Greg says. Pictured 2/6 above. Find out more.

  • Tim Knappstein – Riposte by Tim Knappstein and Son, SA

  • Riposte is the project of South Australian wine veteran and third-generation vigneron Tim Knappstein. Made from vines in the Adelaide Hills, the Riposte range focuses on cool-climate varieties, and includes the aromatic and complex The Foil Sauvignon Blanc. “Sauvignon Blanc is an intriguing variety to work with,” Tim says. “It’s an intensely aromatic grape variety with great fruit purity, and one of the finest expressions of the climate and quality of the vineyard in the finished wine. The spectrum of flavours in the variety usually differs from site to site, with ripeness at picking also playing a large part in the end product.”

    The Riposte style is intense and racy, with flavours spanning from herbaceous to tropical, and has an excellent mouthfeel and palate weight. “With our fruit sourced from two high, very cool vineyards, it is important to monitor fruit flavour ripeness to determine the picking date rather than just sugar, to avoid making thin, green wines,” Tim explains. 

    Getting things right in the vineyard is paramount, as Tim maintains a light touch in the winery. “Very little [in the winemaking process] has changed over time – apart from the inclusion of an oak-fermented portion,” he says. “A portion of the juice is fermented to dryness in new French oak to provide some extra complexity and weight. We don’t look for barrel-aged characters, just a light touch of oak to complement the punchy fruit in our quest for texture and mouthfeel.” Tim suggests enjoying this wine chilled, but not too cold, alfresco and with steamed muscles or grilled prawns. Pictured 5/6 above. Find out more.

  • Stuart Pym – Flowstone, WA

  • Stuart Pym has 30 years of experience in the Margaret River wine industry, which led to the conception of Flowstone in 2013. The label’s philosophy of “small is good” translates to the production of high-quality, concentrated wines from premium parcels of fruits. When it comes to sauvignon blanc, Stuart notes its two distinct identities. “The most recognised is that bright, fresh and passionfruit-y expression that most people are familiar with,” he says. “But there is another personality that is nuanced and textural, with lovely minerality and personality. This more serious, sophisticated, Old World expression is the one that works for me.” 

    Stuart is passionate about these styles of sauvignon blanc and showing wine lovers that they can be modern and approachable, too. “My winemaking is very hands-off. I want to demonstrate how special the Flowstone vineyard is,” he says. “The grapes are handpicked over three occasions, whole fruit pressed, then fermented in 600-litre barrels. They remain in these barrels for a year. Once bottled, the wine remains in bottle for at least 18 months. Nothing is hurried.” For the full effect, Stuart recommends drinking sauvignon blanc as an aperitif or with appetisers. “Also with the seafood course of dinner, especially if someone else is cooking it for you.” Pictured 6/6 above.
    Find out more.

    *This article was produced by Halliday Wine Companion in partnership with the featured wineries.