Kate Norris, co-owner & co-winemaker of Division Winemaking Company, pouring her Sauvignon Blanc wines for enthusiasts of the variety. ##Photo provided by Durant Vineyards

Unleash Your Inner Savage

Explore Oregon Sauvignon Blanc

By Michele Francisco

What a long time it took before I discovered a taste for Sauvignon Blanc. The grape variety is synonymous with New Zealand, which massively popularized it. But that wine style edges too closely toward cat pee for this Oregonian. However, the last few years have brought increased awareness and production of Sauvignon Blanc in Oregon. Our own versions converted me from hater to lover– and, advocate– of the grape.

Curiously, Oregon Sauvignon Blanc has yet to be described, or defined, by a distinct style. This was my biggest revelation from last year’s Sauvage: An Exploration of Oregon Sauvignon Blanc. Now in its second year, the event celebrates the rising Oregon variety. Created by Paul Durant, second-generation winegrower at Durant Vineyards, the goal is to introduce attendees to Oregon’s most passionate Sauvignon Blanc producers. These winemakers use a wide range of unique vessels when crafting their wines: French oak (often neutral), concrete, clay amphora, acacia wood, stainless steel tank and, sometimes, a combination of two or more.

Because the variety can grow in diverse climates, limited plantings exist throughout Oregon– from top to bottom. Durant explains, “To ensure we’re highlighting Oregon, all the wines poured at the event are produced from Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in our state. That is really the only ‘rule,’ per se.”

Durant recalls his introduction to Oregon Sauvignon Blanc: “In 2011, we sold our first Pinot Noir grapes to Jim Anderson and Patty Green at Patricia Green Cellars. Shortly after, they asked my dad and me if we would be interested in grafting over vines to Sauvignon Blanc. Our answer? ‘NO! We don't like that wine!’”

A few years later, a memorable bottle of wine changed his mind. “It was Thanksgiving 2015, and we opened a bottle of Patricia Green Cellars Sauvignon Blanc and thought, ‘Damn, this is really good.’”

Continues Durant, “The following spring we grafted in Sauvignon Blanc and sent our first fruit to Patricia Green Cellars the next year. Durant Vineyards crafted Sauvignon Blanc from grapes we grew for the first time in 2019. Since then, we have continued planting and now have about 10 acres. It’s not much, but likely the most in the Dundee Hills.”

Colin Cameron, owner of Pallino Cellars and Pheasant Hill Vineyard, is a huge fan of the grape variety and will be pouring his wine at the event. He says, “My wife, Candice, and I love Sauvignon Blanc; it’s our go-to wine. As a small producer, we wholeheartedly embrace the ability to be creative and inventive. It’s important to learn and develop new relationships with both consumers and other winemakers. We’re thrilled to share our 100 percent stainless steel Sauvignon Blanc with other admirers of this up-and-coming Oregon grape.”

King Estate, another participating winery, is credited as the first Oregon producer to nationally distribute Sauvignon Blanc. Brent Stone, King Estate Winery co-CEO and winemaker, says, “We have been a fan of Oregon Sauvignon Blanc for many years now. The variety does exceptionally well here but often receives little attention in a region typically associated with Pinot Noir. The opportunity to participate in an event that showcases the variety, and to do it alongside our good friends at Durant, is hard to resist.”

The wine world has begun to take notice. Wine Enthusiast selected King Estate’s 2021 Sauvignon Blanc as Editors’ Choice in their list of the best 100 wines of 2022.

To learn more about the variety, purchase tickets for the panel discussion and tasting before the main event. New this year, the seminar, moderated by Michael Alberty, wine writer for The Oregonian and Wine Enthusiast, includes a panel of five local winemakers. They will examine various styles made popular by different regions, the origins of Sauvignon Blanc and the many unique characteristics found in Oregon’s wines.

Held at Durant’s winemaking facility, guests select from two afternoon times, both with sumptuous-sounding pairing bites: charred asparagus and avocado tostada with Durant jalapeño olive oil, lemongrass shrimp with paadee green papaya salad, chicken liver mousse and Sauvignon Blanc jelly crostini, sweet pea and green garlic hummus with pita.

Durant says, “Guests can expect to see me helping direct parking and get people pointed in the right direction. Once there, everyone gets to step into the winery and progress through the tasting while sampling some thoughtfully prepared appetizers.”

“I really enjoy the wide variety of wines crafted from Sauvignon Blanc,” Durant says. “The wines don't have to be overly astringent and can have lovely, fruit-forward notes, with awesome texture and acidity. I just love the grape, the wine and the opportunity to learn and collaborate with other great Oregon wineries. This event is a way to introduce more people to Oregon Sauvignon Blanc.”

Sauvage: An Exploration of Oregon Sauvignon Blanc
May 18, $60-75

10-11:30 a.m. Panel discussion and tasting at Durant Olive Mill 
5700 N.E. Breyman Orchards Rd., Dayton

Noon & 3 p.m. Tasting event at Durant's winemaking facility 
4500 N.E. Blanchard Ln., Dayton

Wineries pouring at Sauvage: An Exploration of Oregon Sauvignon Blanc
Durant Vineyards
Sokol Blosser Winery
Patricia Green Cellars
Division Winemaking Co.
Iterum Wines
Appassionata Estate
Matzinger-Davies Wine Co.
King Estate Winery
Laurel Ridge Winery
Pallino Cellars
Andante Vineyard
Limited Addition Wines

Michele Francisco spent her childhood reading and writing, eventually graduating from UCLA with an English degree. She attended graphic design school and began a career in design and marketing. After moving to Oregon in 2010, Michele studied wine at Chemeketa Community College and began Winerabble, a Northwest-focused wine blog. She has been a cheerleader for Oregon wine since her arrival.

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