Dunne on wine: Goldschmidt sauvignon blanc a spicy winner

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3D

If it's the Fourth of July, that means it's time for our annual hike to Fourth of July Lake in the Mokelumne Wilderness Area of the Eldorado National Forest.

The altitude up there is much too high for vineyards, and I learned long ago that if I want to climb out of the steep hollow that holds the lake I don't want to drink anything stronger than water.

At the end of the day, however, I'll look forward to something else well-chilled and refreshing.

I'm thinking Forefathers Wines 2011 Marlborough Wax Eye Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.

When I first tasted this wine a few weeks ago I didn't quite know what to make of it. I liked it instantly, but wondered if I should. It's the most assertive example of New Zealand sauvignon blanc I can recall, and that's a genre that is nothing if not assertive.

New Zealand sauvignon blancs are the bikers of the white-wine world, coming at you with blinding lightning and rolling thunder. The most profound come from New Zealand's viticultural equivalent of a Harley assembly plant, Marlborough, etched into the northeast reaches of the South Island. At their best, they are packed with grapefruit, peach and lime, a spiciness not far removed from jalapeños, and a swashbuckling acidity that threatens to carve up the tongue into tiny pieces, but no one who appreciates character and verve in their wine begs off.

The Forefathers is all that, plus. Every attribute that explains the rocketing popularity of New Zealand sauvignon blanc in the United States over the past couple of decades seems magnified two or three times in this wine. It has more fruit, more weight, more complexity and a more enduring finish than most takes on New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Is it an exceptionally glorious interpretation or a caricature? I'm coming down on the side of glorious, and pouring myself another glass, thank you.

Forefathers is the brand of Nick and Yolyn Goldschmidt, native New Zealanders who since 1990 have lived in Healdsburg in northern Sonoma County, where he began his career as a California winemaker at historic Simi Winery.

Today, he, his wife and their five children own several brands, including Goldschmidt for cabernet sauvignons from Alexander and Napa valleys, 3 Sisters for a series of north state varietals he makes with the couple's three daughters, and Pampano for wines he makes in Argentina.

Forefathers is the brand the Goldschmidts created to showcase wines that represent what they and many others see as the most classic and representative matching of varietal and appellation – shiraz from McLaren Vale in South Australia, cabernet sauvignon from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, and sauvignon blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand.

Nick Goldschmidt is one of those winemakers who when you reach him on the phone your first question is, "What airport are you at today?"

As a consulting winemaker in high demand around the globe, he travels a conservatively estimated 150,000 miles a year, visiting 16 client wineries in six countries. This gives him ample opportunity to check out numerous regions and to discover the kinds of wines each produces best.

Wax Eye Vineyard was planted in 1995 on gravely glacial soils along the Hawkesbury River on the east slope of Marlborough. There, the soils are well drained, the exposure to sunlight is open, and the air currents are steady, moderating summer heat while lessening the odds of winter frosts, explained Goldschmidt. Sauvignon blancs from the area run more to grapefruit and apricot flavors, while examples of the varietal from old riverbed soils to the west tend to show more grass and asparagus.

As is the practice in New Zealand, the grapes were harvested by machine, starting in this instance at 2 a.m. on the day that Goldschmidt calculated they were ideally ripe.

Though California winemakers generally boast that their grapes are hand- harvested, thereby evoking images of tradition and precision, Goldschmidt is a member of the growing community of vintners who recognize the technology of picking grapes by machine has advanced so dramatically in recent years that it gets fruit from vine to vat much faster and in much better condition than if it were brought in manually.

At Marlborough, machines give growers the tool they need to harvest grapes during a narrow window of opportunity – just when the crop is optimally mature, which often happens right on the eve of the rainy season.

"At Marlborough, everyone wants to harvest within two weeks. That's impossible (without machines)," said Goldschmidt, noting that New Zealand doesn't have the farm labor needed to bring in a large crop in a short time.

The Wax Eye, believes Goldschmidt, is the only New Zealand sauvignon blanc made exclusively for the U.S. market. His goal with the wine is to retain the powerful characteristics expected of Marlborough sauvignon blanc while giving it the added weight, structure and complexity Americans look for in wine.

+He does this by picking the grapes when they are fully mature, and by leaving the juice on its lees – sediment thrown off by the fruit as it ferments – for an extended period. The result is a sauvignon blanc "fleshier," creamier and more layered than most from New Zealand.

The "Wax Eye" name that the Goldschmidts gave the vineyard derives from the wax-eye bird, also known as the white-eye and the silver-eye. They are small, but notorious for traveling in massive flocks and for descending en masse on plants to devour their every last berry, including grapevines.

"They eat so many grapes – tons," said Goldschmidt.


Forefathers Wines 2011 Marlborough Wax Eye Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18)

By the numbers: 13 percent alcohol, 2,600 cases, $18.

Context: "We drink it with everything, every night," says Nick Goldschmidt, but especially when "shrimp on the barbie," lobster or some other heavy seafood is on the menu. He even pairs it with beef, especially when a heaping serving of arugula is on the side. "Arugula is the world's best food and it goes with sauvignon blanc."

Availability: The wine is stocked at Corti Brothers and can be ordered through the winery's website, www.forefatherswines.com.

More information: The Goldschmidts don't have a winery tasting room, but several of their wines are poured at the Wine Shop, 331 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Mike Dunne



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