california, chenin blanc, clarksburg, sparkling wine -

sparkling chenin blanc

California has a mixed history when it comes to sparkling wine. Although bubbles have been made since the nineteenth century, a lot of it was generic, labeled as "Champagne" (which some producers still do). There was little attempt to connect grape variety, place, and style to create a quality wine.

As the renaissance of California wine began in the 1960s and 70s, there was a greater emphasis on quality. Schramsberg and Iron Horse were two of the first genuinely good local producers focusing on sparkling wine, and Champagne houses Moët et Chandon, Taittinger, Mumm, and, best of all, Louis Roederer invested and opened wineries. Nevertheless, there's still a lack of definition to California bubbles.

It's hard to believe now, but when California wines were re-emerging in the 60s Chenin Blanc was the most planted variety in Napa Valley. Since then, plantings across the state have fallen dramatically but pockets remain—most noticeably in Clarksburg. This is a small AVA next to Lodi on the Sacramento Delta. The Sacramento is a large river which starts in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which are covered in snow in the winter, and slowly winds its way to San Francisco. After it leaves Sacramento, it splits before reforming, creating a delta. The Clarksburg AVA therefore has local, cooling water influence, as well as breezes coming in from the San Francisco bay area.

Clarksburg is the one area in California that has maintained its Chenin Blanc plantings. It's an historic part of California wine production, but one which has been overlooked in favor of Napa and Sonoma. And Chenin Blanc is associated with California's past rather than its present. That's slowly changing, as Chenin Blanc is increasingly fashionable and small producers are buying fruit from the region. Sparkling Chenin Blanc is made in the Loire Valley, particularly Vouvray and Montlouis, and now there's a small amount being made in California.

Leo Hansen is Danish, a former sommelier now making wine in California. His focus is on Chenin Blanc, which is why his label is called Leo Steen—the traditional name for Chenin Blanc in South Africa. He's made his first sparkling Chenin from fruit sourced from Clarksburg. It's fermented in oak for two months before 14 months' bottle ageing on the lees. The result is a crisp, lean, high acid wine with fleshy stone fruit aromas and a spicy lees texture.

It's proof that very good Chenin Blanc is being produced in California and that there's a greater amount of very good sparkling wine too. Or, as my wife put it: "This is f—— delicious."