Blanc Check

Matanzas Creek winemaker expands Sauvignon Blanc program

When Jackson Family Wines adds a new product, you might expect that a team of brand managers had something to say about it. Meetings. Test marketing. But sometimes, it’s just the inspiration of a quick-thinking winemaker.

The mega family wine group operates on four continents and has acquired dozens of wineries, including Matanzas Creek, where winemaker Marcia Monahan (pictured) discovered she had an amazing small lot of Sauvignon Blanc.

“I cannot blend it,” she decided to herself. When the ownership stopped by for a visit, Monahan casually handed them an unlabeled bottle. “Oh, take it for lunch,” she suggested.

They loved the wine, and asked, “How much do we have bottled?” None as of yet. Her gambit worked, and a new wine was added to the portfolio.

Monahan started her career in her native Chile, but had been working for Jackson Family Wines for more than 10 years when she was named winemaker here in 2010. In the 1980s, Matanzas Creek made waves for making rich and pricey Chardonnay, and was also big on Merlot. Today, the winery might be just as well known as the place with the lovely lavender gardens, tucked away in sleepy Bennett Valley.

In a recent tasting at Matanzas Creek, I was surprised to find five Sauvignon Blancs. “Actually, we have 45 Sauvignon Blancs,” says Monahan. “When you have that detail on the different blocks, you discover which are outstanding.” Monahan says that she and her colleagues at Jackson Family Wines, who share vineyards and some production space, have a degree of freedom to express their own style.

Tropical, grassy and upfront, the 2013 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($21) contains helpings of Musqué clone and Semillon. Super zippy and grassy, the 2013 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($35), mostly fermented in a concrete egg tank, has a guava note. More subdued, earthy and floral are the 2013 Bennett Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($32) and 2013 Helena Bench Knights Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($40).

Reared in stainless steel, three kinds of barrels both large and small, and concrete egg, the cosmopolitan 2012 Journey Sauvignon Blanc ($50) is all about structure, not fruit. Getting fancy with the tasting note, I say the aroma’s more like roasted oak flower than toasty oak, but I wish I would have test-marketed that first.

Matanzas Creek Winery, 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily, 10am–4:30pm. Tasting fee, $10–$15. 707.528.6464.