A Bit of the Loire Valley [Finally] Comes to Texas
A Tasting of Becker Vineyards 2008 Fleur Sauvage Bogar Vineyard
For years I have heard people in Texas talk of the Chenin Blanc grape as one of Texas’ best, but how come I just have not tasting one that I really liked, at least up until now.
You may recall that in the spring of this year, I was on the Texas High Plains near Lubbock to bear witness to the planting of new and much needed Texas vineyards (See: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=674). Instead, what I got was a face full of stinging ice and blowing red sand, and a glimpse of many frozen young buds as a result of the late spring freeze. However, one bright spot during that frigid weekend was a bottle of wine that was presented on the tailgate of Mark Bogar’s pickup truck: No refrigeration needed. It was Becker Vineyard (www.beckervineyards.com) 2008 Fleur Sauvage, a white wine with the single vineyard designation, Bogar Vineyard: (http://southwestfarmpress.com/news_archive/texas-wine-grapes-0819).
Some Texas winemakers have tried to make a dry Chenin Blanc that I simply find too tart. Others try to jack the residual sugar way up and end up making a sweet cloying concoction that treats my palate as if I am eating cotton candy…..good on the first taste, but too more sips and I’m done.
For a bit of background, you may not know but the Chenin Blanc grape originates from the Loire Valley in France, a lovely rural spot that follows the Loire River with lush green farmlands, wonderful cheeses and a wine so complex and it at times it even befuddles the French and most anyone else that tries to buy a bottle. Why? It seems like the producers in Loire are like Texas wineries that try to produce wines from this grape. They can’t figure what style it should have. You have wineries that make it dry, sweet and somewhere in between. This isn’t all bad, but few producers will give you any description on the label regarding the style they feature. To make matters somewhat worse, a producer that makes it dry one year, may switch to off-dry or even fully sweet the next year or visa versa.
Wine experts have noted that Chenin Blanc is a very versatile grape with a high natural level of acidy when grown properly that can actually be easily made in various sweetness, including a dessert style, or as a dry sparkling wine. Its ability to be made into premium quality wines across a wide spectrum of styles leads to its comparison with German Rieslings for versatility. However, in most places other than in the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc ends up as a pretty dull “plonk” wine mainly due to over cropping.
I recently picked up a bottle Fleur Sauvage (Bogar Vineyard) at Becker Vineyards (www.beckervineyards.com) located in Stonewall, Texas, mainly to refresh my memory of this wine. The experience was even better that I recalled from my High Plains trip and something about which I had to write. The good news is that this wine, Becker Vineyard 2008 Fleur Sauvage (Bogar Vineyard) is different that any Texas Chenin Blanc wine than I have ever tasted.
The first thing that was apparent from my visit to the Bogar Vineyard was that these grapes came from gnarly vines that were over twenty year old. For the infantile Texas wine industry, twenty year old vines can actually qualify as “Old Vines”. This means that they were survivors through the Texas heat, and what is just now becoming better appreciated; they also survived the all too common late spring freezes that may be a more limiting aspect for Texas winegrowers. Old vines also tend to put out less fruit than young vines and this leads to added intensity in the grapes and, in turn, the wine.
Becker Vineyards’ winemaker Russell Smith hit a home run with Fleur Sauvage, vinifying it off-dry (referred to as demi-sec in France), or in other words, slightly sweet. The kicker in this wine is the added punch obtained from the grapes natural acidity. The acidity keeps the wine fresh and crisp, and actually ameliorates the sweetness to the point of being downright luxurious and quite pleasing. The other components that make Fleur Sauvage a memorable wine tasting experience are the light straw color with a slight green hue, aromas of peach, honey with a hint of tropical fruit, the intense fruit flavor of muskmelon followed by almondy marzipan, a slight slippery slickness on the palate, and its clean soft finish.
Give Becker Vineyards Fleur Sauvage a try while the supply lasts at the winery. I do not know its availability in other parts of the state. Becker Vineyards Fleur Sauvage is definitely worth a trip to the winery to get it or just get them to ship you some. Give them a call at: call 830-644-2681 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. According to the Becker Vineyards website they can only ship wine to the following states: CA, CO, FL, IA, IL, MO, NM, OH, TX, VA, and WV.
Dr. Richard and Bunny Becker, you should be very pleased. To everyone else, drink well and enjoy!