Missing from the list of popular white wines in the United States is picpoul blanc. It isn’t even very well known in its native France, where it’s long been cultivated in both the Languedoc region and the Rhone Valley, where it is one of 13 grape varieties permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
None of that intimidates vintner Susan Tipton, who also didn’t get the memo that if you grow grapes and make wine in Lodi the grapes are to be black and the wines red.
At her Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards, Tipton makes almost solely white wines, one of which is a citric and snappy picpoul blanc.
“I planted 100 vines (of picpoul blanc) in 2011 because I knew it would make a great blending grape for my white Rhone-style wines,” Tipton said. At the time, no one else in Lodi was cultivating picpoul blanc.
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When she tasted her early wines made only from the picpoul blanc, much to her surprise she found their suggestions of pineapple, jasmine and lemon so alluring that she decided to bottle some of the variety on its own.
“It was just too good to put it all into a blend,” Tipton said. She doesn’t make much of it – only 65 cases from this past fall’s harvest – and it goes largely to members of her wine club.
Tipton, however, just planted 775 more vines of picpoul blanc and will be expanding production as they mature.
Susan Tipton – Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards
What’s so special: So little picpoul blanc is planted in California that state agricultural officials don’t report how much acreage is devoted to the variety, though that could change as more vines are cultivated. Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, where the first picpoul blanc in the United States was planted in 2000, and which has been instrumental in fostering cultivation throughout California, figures only about 30 acres are devoted to the grape in the state.
“I am always reminded of piña colada,” Haas said in describing the nature of the wine produced by picpoul blanc in Paso Robles. “It has that combination of pineappley acidity and a creamy coconut texture.” Aside from the refreshing wine that the grape yields, its catchy nickname in France, “lip stinger,” derived from the wine’s characteristic acidic bite, could help give it a marketing edge in the United States.
The local connection: Susan Tipton and her husband, Rodney Tipton, settled in Lodi in 2000 and bought a 16-acre vineyard three years later. As a lot of other wine-grape acreage in Lodi, the vineyard is planted mostly to zinfandel. Susan Tipton, however, is a white-wine enthusiast, particularly as they are styled in the Rhone Valley. She sells the zinfandel to other vintners while devoting herself to such white wines as grenache blanc, viognier, roussanne and picpoul blanc.
Expectations: The Tiptons hope to hit their goal of 3,000 cases annually in another two years, with picpoul blanc expected all on its own to account for 250 cases of that total. “I am anxious to see it on my tasting-room menu throughout the year. And I’d love to experiment with a sparkling version,” Susan Tipton said. What’s more, she expects other Lodi farmers to start putting in picpoul blanc. “After trying the Acquiesce picpoul blanc, several growers in Lodi have expressed an interest in planting the variety. It grows very well in our sandy loam soils and is a dream in the (winemaking) cellar. It is a great stand-alone wine and a wonderful blending grape.”
Quote: “Consumers just love this wine. With an alcohol level of 12.5 percent and nice pineapple and citrus aromas, it’s a perfect sip-by-the-pool wine. It’s also a perfect pairing with oysters, mussels and shellfish, and I’ve noticed a particular interest (in the wine) from consumers who enjoy Indian and vegetarian foods.”
Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards