Happy California Wine Month! This week we're celebrate with a lesser known variety that has been stepping back into the spotlight thanks to many boutique producers: chenin blanc.
Originally from France's Loire Valley, chenin blanc is an incredibly versatile grape making a full range of wine styles worldwide. Although produced en masse in California in the 70s and 80s, the wines were simple and became quickly overshadowed by other varieties like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. To illustrate, "45,000 acres were planted to the variety in California as recently as 1982. Today, the total is down to 5,144 acres," says Mike Dunn of The Sacramento Bee.
As California chenin blanc decreased in popularity, other regions were increasing their production and gaining market share. Today South Africa makes over half of all the chenin blanc produced worldwide, mostly from the Stellenbosch and Paarl regions. Other major producers include France and Argentina.
As Eric Asimov described, "It used to be a staple in Napa Valley. Until 1996, Charles Krug, for one, used to make more than 100,000 cases a year of inexpensive, slightly sweet chenin blanc. Most of those Napa grapes were pulled in favor of sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon, which offer a far better economic return."
Although you won't find many plantings today Napa Valley, there are a number of good values coming from a variety of lesser-known regions.
"Chenin blanc is probably the fastest growing white category in the store," says Bottle Barn Wine Buyer, Barry Herbst, "Encompassing a wide variety of geographic regions such as Sacramento Delta, Stellenbosch, Mendocino, Savennieres and Saumur. Stylistically it is remarkably flexible. It can be sparkling, sweet, crisp, dry and everything in between. It has also proven in some cases to be remarkably age worthy."
"Winemakers are finally giving it some respect now, and it shows," says Paul Hodgins of The Press-Enterprise, "Their interpretations of chenin blanc are often racy and bracing, lean but full and pleasantly mineral-is."
As Herbst puts it, "All in all there seems to be nothing but upside for chenin blanc."
- 2016 Foxen Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Old Vines Chenin Blanc ($24.99)
- 2017 Lang & Reed Mendocino Chenin Blanc ($24.99)
- 2018 St. Rey Sutter Ranch Vineyard Clarksburg Chenin Blanc ($15.99)
- 2016 Forlorn Hope Rorick Vineyard Calaveras County Chenin Blanc ($31.99)
- 2017 Leo Steen Saini Vineyard Chenin Blanc ($17.99)
Asimov, E. (2015). Chenin Blanc Makes an Audacious U.S. Return. The New York Times.
Budd, J. (2019). The Chenin Blanc renaissance?. Decanter.
Buzzeo, L. (2019). Chenin Blanc’s New Chapter. Wine Enthusiast.
Dunn, M. (2016). Chenin blanc, once a slip of a wine, bulks up. The Sacramento Bee.
Hodgins, P. (2018). These obscure wines are stepping into the spotlight. The Press-Enterprise.
Schiessl, C. (2018). The Evolution of California Chenin Blanc. SevenFiftyDaily.