Greyscale Wines, established in 2008 by Jean and Larry Rowe, produces hand-crafted premium wines using high-quality Napa Valley grapes. The 2014 Greyscale Cuvée Blanc is a blend of oak barrel and stainless-steel fermented Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon. It is barrel-aged for 15 months before bottling. The wine has a lively nose of fresh melon and gooseberry notes. It is refreshing on the palate with a combination of zesty citrus notes (grapefruit and lemon-lime) and stone fruit (apricot and peach) with a round taste of vanilla cream. The Semillon adds weight and and body to the Sauvignon Blanc. The wine taste falls between a traditional New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with green and citrus notes and a California Chardonnay with intense tropical fruit notes and creaminess from barrel aging. Greyscale Cuvée Blanc can be quaffed by the pool on a sunny afternoon or paired with fresh oysters and fish. Several people have commented how well it the pairs with spicy Asian dishes.
Why did you name the winery Greyscale Wines?
The Greyscale Wines name came from an observation Jean made that, “Wine is neither black nor white. It’s always shades of grey.” This phrase captures our philosophy of winemaking – it is not a scientific formula. Each year we adjust to weather, fruit quality, winemaking opportunities, and blending components to produce the very best wine possible. Our consulting winemaker is Kian Tavakoli. He has a degree in enology from U.C. Davis and experience working at Opus One and Clos Du Val. His French heritage fostered a love for Bordeaux style wines that is a perfect complement to our philosophy.
The Sauvignon Blanc (SB) grapes are sourced from the Dalla Gasperina vineyard formerly owned by Lucio Dalla Gasperina, one of the founders of the Tommy Bahama clothing line. This organically-farmed vineyard is located in the Rutherford AVA in the heart of Napa Valley. The soil has a mosaic of gravelly loam and sand along with volcanic and marine sediments that provide excellent drainage which causes the vines to grow deep to find water. Drainage is important because it reduces the risk of root rot and forces the vines to grow deep stressing the vines which has the unexpected side-effect of improving grape quality. As one vineyard manager told us, stressing the vines encourages them to put “the good stuff” in the grapes (survival of the species?) which produces better wines.
The SB is Clone 1 which has a long history in California. They were first imported in the 1800s from a Chateau Yquem vineyard in France. The grapes are highly aromatic and have a slight taste of sweetness even when fermented dry (i.e., 0% residual sugar).
The grapes were picked on September 3, 2014 starting around 2 AM and brought to the winery early in the morning (see http://tinyurl.com/jzrk9wm for a picture of night picking). The grapes measured 25.2 degrees Brix (sugar) and 3.43 pH (acid). The SB grapes are whole-cluster pressed, which means the grape clusters are placed into the press and the juice is extracted. The juice is put into a tank for a couple of days to allow particular matter to settle to the bottom where it can be removed. Then, one-third of the juice is put into a stainless steel tank and two-thirds is put into a once-used French oak barrel. The two vessels are inoculated with a commercial yeast (Elixir) and fermented dry. The Elixir yeast is designed for selected grape varieties (e.g., SB, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, etc.) to encourage selected aromas (melon) while discouraging herbaceous green notes. Stainless fermentation gives the wine citrus flavors and aromas while barrel fermentation gives it stone fruit flavors.
As with most white wines, cold fermentation was used during primary fermentation. The juice temperature stays between 55-60 deg F as opposed to red wine fermentation in which the temperature ranges between 75-85 deg F. Cold fermentation maintains the fragile fruit characteristics and aromas in white grapes. On the other hand, cold fermentation takes longer. The 2014 Greyscale Cuvée Blanc fermentation took over 3 weeks to complete compared to red wines that take 10-15 days. Some wineries slow fermentation down even longer (4-6 weeks).
After fermentation, the SB wine was blended together and returned to barrels where it was aged for 15 months. The barrels are French oak (Vicard) with 30% new oak. Every two weeks the lees are stirred. The lees are the dead yeast cells and particulates in the wine that typically collect in the bottom of the barrel. Stirring the lees gives a brightness and creaminess to the wine.
The Semillon grapes also came from the Dalla Gasperina vineyard. They were fermented separately in a stainless steel tank. Many SB wines are blended with a small amount of Semillon or other blending grape to add weight and roundness to the wine or to add more aromas.
The was blended in early March 2016. The blend was 97% SB (33% stainless- and 67% oak-fermented) and 3% Semillon. Blending is always interesting as you try different combinations and compare the resulting products. We tried higher and lower percentages of Semillon and different balances between stainless/oak fermented wine. The wine was bottled on March 25, 2015. It has plenty of acidity (pH 3.34) which will encourage aging and lower alcohol (14.5%). The wine was released on June 1, 2016.
Over the years we have produced the Greyscale Wines Cuvée Blanc, the Dalla Gasperina SB has been blended with different grapes (e.g., Marsanne, Roussanne, and Semillon), the balance between stainless/oak fermentation has been varied, and we have used different French barrels. Jean and I think the 2014 is the best Cuvée Blanc we have produced. We hope you enjoy it.
Why do you call it Cuvée Blanc?
The wine we are producing uses the same methods used to produce a Bordeaux Blanc. But, we cannot call it that because the grapes and winemaking were not done in Bordeaux. We did not want to call it Sauvignon Blanc because it is very different from a traditional Sauvignon Blanc (e.g., Sancerre from the Loire or Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand). We thought people would taste it and say, “that’s not a Sauvignon Blanc.” Some California wineries use the name Fumé Blanc, which was created by Robert Mondavi in the late 1960’s to distinguish California Sauvignon Blancs from sweeter wines produced elsewhere.
We chose Cuvée Blanc, which just means a blend (cuvée) of white wines, because it conveys the style we are producing. Most customers have never tasted an SB like our Cuvée Blanc and they are pleasantly surprised when they sample it. Try it and see if you agree!