Raise a glass to Sauv Blanc this Summer
There’s something about sauvignon blanc. On a searing hot day in Australia there’s nothing better than seafood straight out of the ocean, chargrilled and downed with a glass of the cold, crisp, white stuff. It may not be the coolest kid on the block, but it encompasses the undeniable, easy drinking taste of summer.
The green-skinned, cool climate grape variety originates from France’s Bordeaux region and found a home and popularity in New Zealand soil. Turns out it is also particularly happy in the Mount Benson region on South Australia’s Limestone Coast.
That’s where Wangolina winemaker Anita Goode has been growing it for nearly 20 years. It’s the brand’s most popular and awarded white wine. “People know and love it,” she says. “You can drink it now, drink it quick, then drink some more.”
Anita’s ancestors arrived in Kingston in the late 1800s and purchased Wangolina Station in 1923. She and her parents John and Jan Goode planted and established the Wangolina vineyards in 1999. Anita has been on the sauv blanc bandwagon ever since.
“We originally planted sauv blanc in 1999,” Anita says. “On advice from other growers in Mount Benson. At that point it was looking to be an interesting variety.”
When the family planted their first 1.6 hectares in 1999, they were impressed by its quality. “It had punchiness, freshness and vibrancy. We were making style of wine that we believe stood up to the best of sauvignon blanc in Australia and that was on really early vines.”
It was a time when sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand’s was hot stuff. “It was the high fashion variety for the time.”
In 2004 things geared up a notch for Wangolina. They didn’t enter many competitions at the time but that year, claimed the Hyatt/Advertiser SA Sauvignon Blanc of the Year Award.
“It was a real eye-opener for us because at that point we realised we were on to something,” Anita says. “To receive that award for a Mount Benson sauvignon blanc – it stood up to us and said to us, ‘This is a thing’”.
Anita and her father hot-footed to New Zealand to soak up all the knowledge they could. When they returned, they focused heavily on quality, added more plantings, and looked into sauvignon blanc clones, eventually on one with open bunch and disease resistant potential. A different flavour profile ensued. It was vibrant, interesting and a lot more tropical in its nature. “So, we had our original one which was a more green character sauvignon blanc, then we had this other one that always looks like bright pineapple.”
More awards flowed during 2008, including a gold medal the at Royal Adelaide Wine Show, a place in Sydney International Wine Competition’s top 100 and also in wine writer Tony Love’s Top 100. “That year our sauvignon blanc sold out in nine months and we realised the work we’d been doing was paying off. From then on we’ve maintained our style and Mount Benson now has a very recognisable style. We’re doing really good things around the country.”
What makes a Mount Benson sauvy stand out from the crowd? A balance of herbaceous and tropical notes.
“While we have that tropical fruit note that comes through, it’s that strong crunchy, crispy herbaceousness that lifts through the wine. It doesn’t lean too far into either - it sits in a real sweet spot in the sauvignon blanc flavour spectrum.”
To date, Wangolina grows 5.2 hectares of the good stuff.
So why does the variety do so well in this small coastal region, 300 kilometres from Adelaide? Put simply, it’s down to Mother Nature’s chill factor.
“Most of the vineyards within Mount Benson are within 10 kilometres of the sea,” Anita says. “The Bonney Upwelling is a patch of cold water that is forced to rise to the surface and the sea breezes that come into our vineyards move across that water.”
In a nutshell, the breeze cools the vines down – especially during January, February and March when the mercury rises and the grapes ripen. “It cools everything right down so you’re not metabolising the flavour compounds of sauvignon blanc as fast as you would in a place with less diurnal temperature fluctuation.”
Confused? Don’t be. It’s all good news for what ends up in the glass. Punchy flavours hold up – even when chilled.
Trial and error impacted the way Wangolina approach their winemaking.
“Hiccups and vintage challenges are the things that make you learn the most.” Like 2008, when an extremely hot vintage caused a backlog in the winery. Anita’s grapes sat in bins for around 10 hours before being processed. “In the ideal world that’s not what you would have done but what that achieved for us was something we hadn’t considered before - skin contact.”
Skin contact is now programmed as part of their regular winemaking process.
“A lot of the flavour in sauvignon blanc is from the skin. It was a real strike of luck – a holdup at the winery changed the way our wine was made.”
Sauv blanc is a simple wine – which is where its beauty lies - but for all its easy drinking positives, its copped a bit of flak from journos and wine trade. Since its heyday, sauvignon blanc has fallen out of the fashionable circle but done well, really well, is outstanding. “It’s such a great introductory drink for new wine drinkers,” Anita says. “It’s obvious and overt and it’s got great fruit characters. People who like the idea of a sweeter wine are sometimes really attracted to its aromatic notes. It’s a great wine and we underestimate how good a variety it is today.”
Anita’s love of her top seller goes deeper than just taste. It’s personal. Sauvignon blanc keeps her business growing and allows her the freedom to experiment with other varieties such as grüner veltliner. It continually allows her wines to improve and grow.
“I will be forever grateful for sauvignon blanc because the people who buy it, support it and drink it are keeping my business moving forward. It employs people, keeps our cellar door open and allows us to experiment and play.”
Wangolina’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc is out now. Expect an aromatic explosion of passionfruit, herbaceous, lemon thyme, and tropical fruit salad - but dry on palate. At $20 a bottle it’s a festive season hit. Best with: fish tacos with a side of mango salsa and crunchy coriander. Best consumed on the veranda with a book in hand.