California Sauvignon Blanc sure has improved over the past decade, hasn’t it? I’d like to think that it has to do with improved management techniques and trellis design, not just the fact that I used to drink really cheap Sauv Blanc. Some are as sharp and lean as a blade of grass; others, sweet and round as a melon from sitting lazily on their lees in the barrel. But Guy Davis was not having it. The Healdsburg winemaker has given up on making California Sauvignon Blanc altogether, and now imports it from New Zealand.
After working the harvest during our off-season, the down-under on-season, Davis decided that only kiwi fruit could deliver what he was looking for. The flying family winemaker makes two trips a year to shepherd the wine through harvest and bottling. There’s no question that his “Gusto” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($20) is a tight package of tropical zing and zest, a dry but mouth-watering pineapple-pear cocktail, the likes of which are rare. But that’s not all. When he’s, you know, in the area, Davis also makes a Malbec in Argentina (to be released).
Located in a few unshowy Healdsburg buildings, the winery is easily recognizable for the big recycled material sculpture out front, created by Sebastopol artist Patrick Amiot. Davis was our fourth stop in a recent excursion, and was the most relaxed and real tasting room of the day. The visitor area is only a moderately duded-up portion of the barrel room; the wave-shaped bar is made of smooth riverbed pebbles covered with epoxy—and they’re not “rocks from the vineyard” whose unique mineral notes express the wine’s terroir, for a change. They’re just rocks.
Besides the Sauv Blanc, I particularly enjoyed the light and dry 2006 Côte Rosé ($25), like a picnic cooler full of strawberries and cheese. A perfume of violets and paint precedes flavors of blueberries and dry cocoa in the 2005 Guyzer Block Syrah ($38). There’s nothing like a generous helping of blackberry sweetness; a wild touch of spicy flora adds interest to the 2005 Rapport Zinfandel Port ($30).
So there are plenty of local grapes Davis hasn’t given up on—plus apples. The winery’s unique Apple-ation brandy ($35) is fermented from heirloom Dutton Ranch apples, then distilled. It’s a bit like a bracing hit of grappa, but tasting of this spirit is not allowed on the premises (otherwise, my notes might be even more unreadable). The 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) is nice, but I don’t think I meant to say that it has a “big, fun aroma of liquor and Chevys.”
Davis Family Vineyards, 52 Front St., Healdsburg. Open Thursday–Sunday, 11am–5pm. $5 tasting fee, refundable. 707.433.3858.