Vineyard Designate: Sawmill Creek Vineyards
by CARLO DEVITO on SEPTEMBER 20, 2018
Editor’s note: Similar to the tastemakers series I write for the site, Carlo DeVito is going to showcase some of the best and most important vineyards sites on the East Coast and Midwest. We’re calling this new series “Vineyard Designate.”
Growers rarely get the headlines. It’s the winemakers who seem to set fashion and quality and grab all the headlines, feature articles, and photo ops. But there are growers who have become brand names in and of their own right.
A vineyard designated wine is a wine produced from grapes grown in a single vineyard with that vineyard’s name appearing on the wine label. Under United States wine law, if the name of vineyard appears on the label at least 95% of the grapes used to make the wine must come from that vineyard. According to columnist Dr. Vinny at Wine Spectator, “they certainly indicate a confidence that the wine is at least distinctive.”
The concept was best surmised by Stett Holbrook in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, “In France, terroir is taken as gospel. Over the last two decades, California winemakers have also embraced the notion, and it’s become more and more common for wines to be marketed with a “single vineyard” designation. Winemakers have been talking less about winemaking and more about soil and microclimate and the uniqueness of vineyard character. You don’t often find the word on a wine label, but when the label touts a particular vineyard, that’s code for terroir.”
Heitz Cellars seems to have led the way with the Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvingnon. And St. St. Jean pretty much lead the way with their Chardonnays. These were the leaders in single-vineyard or single-vineyard designations. There are two kinds of single-vineyard designations. The first would be the single vineyards of a particular winery. And there are the single vineyards of professional grape growers. The later is more rare.
This is the first in a series of articles about the development of single-vineyard wines outside of the West Coast. “It was in the 1990s that vintners opted to go bigtime with vineyard-designated bottles. They said they were spurred by the extra complexity that certain sites exhibited, but that’s only half the story. The other half was that, by then, it was apparent the public would pay more for single vineyard wines,” wrote Steve Heimoff. “As I said, I’m not sure that the best, most wholesome and complete, not to mention satisfying, wines come from individual vineyards. But wine isn’t just about hedonism, it’s about intellectual fun. For me, as a wine lover and critic, I love these single vineyard or block designation wines because they’re so interesting in themselves, even if they’re sometimes a little lacking something essential.”
We happen to think it’s about terroir, first and foremost. Single vineyard designations offer the ultimate in terroir. And the concept has not only gained ground in the eastern winemaking regions as well, it has made headlines.
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