Domestic Selection: Chenin Blanc, 1992. RH Phillips

Two decades ago, two broth­ers, John and Karl Giguiere (grandsons of Washington State wheat farmer Robert Hugh Phil­lips), along with John’s wife, Lane Giguiere, pioneered the development of vineyards in north­western Yolo County. Their family had acquired a ranch there in 1946 and had followed the local tradi­tions of farming dryland wheat and barley, and grazing sheep.

When the threesome came into possession of the farm in 1973, they looked into how it might best be managed. In analyzing the eco­nomics of the traditional agricul­ture of the area, they found that water was a major expense. The ideal crop would be one that would require little or no irrigation. What fulfilled this criterion and was also in high demand? Grapes!

In 1980, they planted their first ten acre vineyard. Then in 1984, they constructed a winery. They hired John’s college friend, Clark Smith, as their enologist. Smith found himself faced with the unen­viable task of making delicate white wines in the arid heat of the Central Valley. To accomplish this, the grapes would have to ar­rive at the winery at no more than 70° F., undamaged by mechanical harvesting techniques. He engaged UC Davis-trained viticultural con­sultant, David Gates, who came up with a “bright” solution: hand-harvest the grapes at night.

Gates designed a lighting sys­tem (using generator-driven, cool, white flourescents) that in his words, “worked so well it almost looked like daylight. It was even better than picking on an overcast day and the cooler temperatures were a boon to the pickers.”

Chenin Blanc thrives in warm weather. Its original home is the Loire Valley of France, a very sun­ny region, by european standards. This is one of the most versatile of the so-called “noble” grapes. It gives delightfully fruity, light luncheon wines; excellent, long-lived, “serious” dry white wines; legen­dary, rich dessert wines and even some very good sparkling wines.

Our example fits into the first category. It exhibits a pale green/gold color and a suave fresh, fruity bouquet reminiscent of pineapple with mild hints of mint. It is really nice in the mouth, rich and smooth. The pineapple flavor pre­vails. With snappy acidity, it sur­prisingly finishes completely dry. The basic flavor lasts on and on in the aftertaste.

Serve chilled with chicken in a cream sauce or with fish broiled in a fresh herb butter.

Cellaring notes: Drink young, and over the next two years.

Reviewed by Larry Tepper

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