An Oregon White Wine with Style, Value and Very Little Fanfare

Sauvignon blanc wine vineyard
Rivers Edge / Photo by Colin Duddy

Chardonnay is the white wine grape most drinkers associate with Oregon, but in recent years, winemakers across the state have been exploring the immense potential of Sauvignon Blanc.

It’s certainly an underdog. In 2018, Sauvignon Blanc barely registered, with just 69 acres planted to the grape. Only 51 of those acres were harvested. And yet, in terms of style, value and quality, Sauvignon Blanc is arguably the best, least-known varietal white wine made in Oregon.

The growing interest in the grape is spread across the state, from the northern Willamette Valley to the southern Rogue Valley. Producers include large wineries and boutique operations.

harvest vineyard sunset
Certified Organic Croft Vineyard / Photo by Amber Gurubel

Andrew Rich began to make Sauvignon Blanc for his namesake winery in 1999, and he sees a growing interest.

It’s good for growers, says Rich, because it’s a “niche” grape that’s not difficult to sell even when other varieties are in oversupply. For wineries, it doesn’t require extensive aging or expensive new barrels.

“Consumers like to try new things, and Sauvignon Blanc fits nicely into the way people like to eat and drink these days,” he says. “Simple dishes work well with crisp, refreshing, aromatic wines.”

King Estate is often credited with putting Oregon Pinot Gris on the global map, so it’s big news when the winery embraces another white wine grape.

After six years of offering limited (club only) experiments with single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, the winery introduced a blended Willamette Valley version nationally in 2019. It’s rich with luscious fruit, including citrus and fresh-picked peaches.

Vineyard drone photo
King Estate Vineyard / Photo by Taylor King

Ryan Johnson, King Estate’s director of brand marketing, says that before the winery brings a bottling to the broader market, it looks hard at the national trends.

“We became reassured to see that there has been a consistent healthy pace for luxury-tiered Sauvignon Blanc,” he says. “In fact, in the past 52 weeks, the $15 to $19.99 Sauvignon Blanc category has grown 16.5% … In today’s marketplace, those are strong numbers.”

In the Rogue Valley, 2 Hawk winemaker Kiley Evans jumped aboard with Sauvignon Blanc after extensive discussions, research and visits with growers and producers in Oregon, California and New Zealand. To match site to variety, he organized benchmark tastings with wines from Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, New Zealand and others.

“We found that for our site, with its clayey-loam soils, Continental climate and wide diurnal temperature swings, our wines fit somewhere between the racy acidity of New Zealand, the full-blown tropical fruit of Napa/Sonoma, and the steely minerality of the Loire,” says Evans.

Sauvignon Blanc Gets Serious on California's Central Coast

Some of the ripest, richest Sauvignon Blanc on the West Coast comes from River’s Edge, in Oregon’s Elkton subappellation. Mike Landt’s wines frequently top 15% alcohol, yet rarely seem overblown. Its southerly location, says Landt, gives more heat during summer afternoons. Nights are cool, due to the ocean’s proximity.

“That combination allows us to achieve a bit more ripeness without creating flabbiness in the wine,” he says.

There may never be just one style of Oregon Sauvignon Blanc, but the diversity is a tasting adventure all on its own.

vineyard harvest
King Estate Vineyard / Photo by Taylor King

Oregon Sauvignon Blancs to Try

Patricia Green Cellars 2017 Summer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Ribbon Ridge); $29, 93 points. A stellar example of the variety, this is sourced from 1990 plantings at the estate (note that there is also a less expensive Willamette Valley bottling). Sleek and richly flavored, there’s a saline accent under deep citrus and stone fruit, flesh and rind. The depth and penetration appears favorably with top-tier Sancerre. Editors’ Choice.

Andrew Rich 2018 Croft Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc(Willamette Valley); $24, 92 points. A sensational take on an emerging Oregon style for Sauvignon Blanc, this rich, vibrant and deep wine rocks the palate with citrus, white peach and pear skin flavors. It’s clearly varietal without being grassy or overly herbaceous, and the acids have been rounded off with just enough fruit sweetness to cut out any bitter edges. Editors’ Choice.

Division 2018 La Frontière Sauvignon Blanc (Oregon); $24, 92 points. Naturally fermented in a mix of stainless and neutral barrels, this is a tart and juicy wine with classic varietal flavors. Sappy and stylish, it’s loaded with citrus fruits hovering close to New Zealand in style, though the Loire is the inspiration. Kudos to winemakers Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe for upping the Sauv Blanc game in Oregon. Editors’ Choice.

Trathen Hall 2018 La Chenaie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Eola-Amity Hills); $25, 92 points. The grassy, ​​pungent aromas lead into a rich palate that’s loaded with ripe lemon, orange and grapefruit citrus. The lip-smacking acidity give it a refreshing juicy quality, and it finishes with a lingering minerality. Editors’ Choice.

vineyard growing grapes
King Estate Vineyard / Photo by Taylor King

2Hawk 2018 Sauvignon Blanc (Rogue Valley); $26, 91 points. A turnabout in style from the previous vintage, this is a rich, dense wine, with a mix of Meyer lemon, apricot and mango fruit. This sees time in 40% neutral oak and 60% stainless steel, the former of which has aided in rounding out the palate. Editors’ Choice.

Melrose 2018 Sauvignon Blanc (Umpqua Valley); $22, 91 points. A standout at Melrose, this is bursting with ripe grapefruit and a pungent, penetrating grassiness, often noted with this grape. It’s much closer to New Zealand than to a Loire Valley style, with notes of lemongrass adding some spice. The length and overall power are impressive. Editors’ Choice.

Capitello 2018 Croft Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Willamette Valley); $20, 90 points. Croft is becoming the go-to vineyard for a burgeoning interest in Oregon Sauv Blanc, at least among winemakers. This is a pungent, racy, herbaceous wine, which nonetheless brings ripe citrus and pineapple fruit into the center ring. It was fermented and aged for five months in concrete eggs, another growing trend for white wines in Oregon.

J. Christopher 2018 Sauvignon Blanc (Willamette Valley); $25, 90 points. The winery makes a pair of Sauv Blancs, this one done in an herbal, Loire Valley style, crisply defined with a green edge and gooseberry fruit. There’s good concentration and penetration, with lemon rind flavors extending into the finish.

River’s Edge 2018 Vintage Farm Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Elkton Oregon); $18, 90 points. This bottling puts a toasty frame around crisp fruit flavors of apple and green melon. There’s a lightly peppery note as well. It’s a big, bold and concentrated wine that shows great power.

King Estate 2018 Sauvignon Blanc (Willamette Valley); $19, 89 points. King Estate is jumping further into Sauvignon Blanc with this affordable complement to the single-vineyard Croft cuvée. At first taste you might say this is all peaches all the time, as that fruit flavor totally dominates the palate. But let it breathe, and a mix of tropical and citrus fruits come together in a luscious array. A portion was fermented in concrete (the rest in stainless), which adds some welcome texture to the body of the wine.

Published on May 6, 2020
Topics: Wine and Ratings