Sauvignon Blanc has been a mainstay at our estate Margarita Vineyard since day one. Here, amid one of the Paso Robles region’s coolest growing environments, the Sauvignon Blanc grape achieves a fine balance of ripeness and raciness, with crisp acidity and appealing mineral accents.
In anticipation of our new release 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, we caught up with Winemaker Stewart Cameron to learn more about how this vintage came together—and about his passion for this classic aromatic white:
How would you describe the 2020 vintage as it relates to Sauvignon Blanc at Margarita Vineyard ?
Conditions were cooler than usual through mid August, which only benefitted our Sauvignon Blanc. But then two late-summer heat waves kicked things into a higher gear. We had to work hard to maintain acidity, and it forced our hand a bit—when the second heat wave came around, we rushed to pick the Sauvignon Blanc fruit. It was mission accomplished, and I was happy with the fruit we got.
Was there anything new in terms of your approach to the 2020 vintage?
Yes—eight barrels, or about four percent of the Sauvignon Blanc—was fermented in French oak barrels, half of them new, half of them neutral. We wanted to see how our Sauvignon Blanc would react to barrel fermentation, and how that might benefit the final blend. We were pleased with the results. It’s a really small portion, but it adds just a touch of added texture to the mouthfeel. I can see this becoming the standard with future vintages. But it will always be a small percentage. With Sauvignon Blanc, the aromatics come first—and when you barrel ferment the wine, you lose some of those delicate aromas because it’s a warmer fermentation, around 65 degrees.
This explains why the vast majority is still cold fermented…
Exactly, we cold ferment it at 55 degrees in stainless steel tanks. You don’t want to create this warm, frothing vortex that expels the aromatic compounds. With cold fermentation, you can retain those aromas in the wine, which is essential for an aromatic white like Sauvignon Blanc. So we can add some complexity with barrel fermentation, but by limiting its role we keep the aromas high in the final blend.
What is your personal benchmark Sauvignon Blanc?
Sancerre, hands down. I really love the minerality component of those wines, and this added sense of flintiness that you get in a lot of them. They say it comes from the grapes and soils, although I suspect that it may also be rooted in their cellar practices. Regardless of what causes that flavor profile, it’s my go-to. On a more local note, Brander Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley is one I respect a lot. Their track record with Sauvignon Blanc is really strong.
Speaking of minerality, that also seems to be a signature of Margarita Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc?
Definitely. Our Sauvignon Blanc comes from Block 41—it’s one of the coolest locations in the vineyard, and the vineyard itself is in the coolest location in Paso Robles. There’s a lot of cool marine air that flows through this spot. The soil profile is rocky alluvium, and that can only help as well. But I believe that the signature minerality in our Sauvignon Blanc is largely an outcome of the cool growing conditions, which are perfect for making an authentic, highly aromatic wine with native minerality.