Calaveras Wine Varietal Spotlight Series: "Chenin Blanc"

[June 29, 2022 - Murphys, CA] Calaveras Winegrape Alliance Education & Events Manager, Mark Silverstone, brings you this bi-weekly spotlight series to educate and inspire! With 52 wine styles being produced in Calaveras County today, our family-run wine region has a lot to talk about when it comes to interesting and obscure grape varietals. Enjoy!

What is Chenin Blanc?

Chenin Blanc is a white wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France. It's high acidity makes it a terrific grape for both sparkling to well-balanced dessert wines. It provides a neutral palate for the variations of terroir, vintage and winemaker style. The juice can be sweet with high acidity creating a full bodied fruity palate.


What is the History and Progression of Chenin Blanc?

French ampelographer Pierre Galet has theorized that Chenin blanc originated in the Anjou wine region sometime in the 9th century, and from there traveled to Touraine by at least the 15th century. The grape may have been the variety described in two royal land grants of Charles the Bald in 845 detailed in the records of the abbey of Glanfeuil as growing on the left bank of the Loire River in vineyards belonging to individuals with the name of Soulangé and Bessé. When Thomas Bohier purchased vineyard land around Chenonceaux on January 3, 1496, several grape varieties were brought in from the Burgundy wine region of Beaune, the Jura wine region of Arbois and nearby Orléans and Anjou. One of these varieties, a white grape known as Plant d'Anjou, was later planted between 1520 and 1535 at a nearby site known as Mont Chenin in Touraine by the Lord of Château de Chenonceau and his brother-in-law, Denis Briçonnet, the abbot of Cormery. Ampelographers believe that Plant d'Anjou was like Chenin blanc, with the grape eventually taking on the name from Mont Chenin. Although produced en masse in California in the 70s and 80s, the wines were simple and became quickly overshadowed by other varieties like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. To illustrate, "45,000 acres were planted to the variety in California as recently as 1982. Today, there are 4,262 planted acres of Chenin Blanc in California according to the 2021 USDA grape acreage report.


Where and When is Chenin Blanc grown?

The climate of the region dictates whether the resulting wine is predominantly dry or sweet. In the New World, South Africa and California in particular, Chenin Blanc is mostly made in a dry style, but with riper, sometimes tropical fruit. However, a handful of South African producers use the grape in their dessert-style "straw wines." Globally, producers often opt to age Chenins in oak, as well as to subject it to malolactic fermentation and aging on its lees, which emphasizes brioche, toast and nutty notes. In Calaveras County, Chatom Vineyards planted 8 acres of Chenin Blanc back in 1981. Less than 10 years later the demand for the grapes waned as Chardonnay grew in popularity, resulting in grafting these grapes over to other varieties. Chatom is currently bringing a few acres of Chenin Blanc back into production. "It is a clean, honest grape" says Gay Callan, owner of Chatom Vineyards. It is very easy to work with and very blendable. It also does well in stainless steel versus barrel aging.

Where is Chenin Blanc offered in Calaveras Wine Country?

Currently in Murphys, Chenin Blanc is available at both Newsome Harlow and Ironstone Vineyards tasting rooms. Newsome Harlow's style is crisp, super dry, medium bodied and creamy on the finish. Boasting intense aromas of pear and minerality with a floral touch on the nose. Winemaker and proprietor, Scott Klann, produces their Chenin Blanc with grapes from long-time grower partner, Chatom Vineyards. You can find our handy Varietals Page that lists varietals by producer at the CWA Website HERE.


Ironstone Vineyards Chenin Blanc originates from their Lodi vineyard (primarily from the Sloughhouse sub-appellation). It is medium bodied, with aromas of pear, honeydew, and light guava, plus a touch of flint-minerality. The wine finishes crisp and plush in the mouth, with flavors of white peach, lemon zest and citrus.


So next time you are in Murphys, be sure to stop by both of these tasting rooms to enjoy and compare these different and refreshing Chenin Blancs; perfect for cooling off during these dog days of summer!


Additional Resources:

UC Davis Overview Report

Wikipedia

Wine Folly