You know when you taste a wine -- or anything, for that matter -- and it rocks your freaking world? Your palate giggles, your inner tap dancer shimmies, and all is right in the world. That's what happened to Chris Christensen the first time he tried sparkling sauvignon blanc.
It was May 2011 and Christensen, a Stanford grad and former rower had just worked his first harvest in Australia when he packed up his vine clippers and headed for Christchurch, New Zealand, a region known for mouthwatering, frizzante-style sparkling sauvignon blanc. Two sips and his thirst was quenched.
"I don't want to say peanut butter and jelly, but sauvignon blanc and bubbles were made to go together," says Christensen, the 32-year-old owner and winemaker for Sonoma's Bodkin Wines.
Christensen knew he wanted to make a California version of the refreshing bubbly. But first he needed to find grapes, and upon returning home, he noticed that the late fall rains had squashed much of the 2011 vintage.
"There wasn't much of a crop, and I didn't know where to find good fruit," he recalls.
Then a friend pointed Christensen to Lake County's prized Sandy Bin Vineyard, a 30-acre vineyard planted in 1996 by veteran grower Larry Rogers. With shade from the mountains in the mornings and warm summer nights, the grapes reach flavor maturity at their own pace.
According to Christensen, this slow, even ripening process allows the grapes to hold their "tangerine-melon-Meyer-lemon flavors" as their sugar content creeps toward pickworthy.
"It really jived with what I was looking for," Christensen says. He made 77 cases that first year, selling most of it to friends and family, including his "96-year-young" grandmother, Sarah, who lives in his native Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "First and foremost, I wanted to make a universally approachable, quaffable wine that (everyone) would enjoy," he says.
How does he get the bubbles? From carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct that occurs when yeast converts sugars to alcohol in the fermentation process. "Once the yeasts have consumed all the sugars in the juice, a small amount of more sugar and yeast is added to the wine before bottling to create a secondary fermentation, which produces the trademark effervescence we know and love,'' says Christensen, who makes his wines at Medlock Ames winery in Alexander Valley.
This isn't Champagne. Christensen says he isn't trying to reinvent the sparkling wheel or even attempt to take on Roederer Estates, Schramsberg or other serious California sparkling wine producers. Still, he wants to show people what sauvignon blanc is capable of.
"It is more than lemonade for adults," says Christensen, whose wines cost $15 to $32 and are available at www.bodkinwines.com and at The Wine Steward in Pleasanton. "Genetically, it's the mother of cabernet sauvignon. In this crazy night of passion in the 18th century, a cabernet franc vine and sauvignon blanc vine mated to formed cabernet sauvignon."
So he treated it like cabernet sauvignon, he says. In addition to still and sparkling versions, Christensen made a skin-fermented "orange" wine in 2011 from grapes grown on Medlock Ames' organically farmed Bell Mountain Vineyard.
The grapes were destemmed and whole-berry fermented in two half-ton bins. Two days after fermentation, the juice received its first (and only) racking of its 11-month aging, sur lies (on its sediment), in neutral oak barrels. In order to maintain the wine's nuances and textures, it was not fined or filtered.
"To me, it's like an albino red," he says. "A lot of times these orange wines oxidize and lose some of their freshness, but sauvignon blanc naturally retains its zest and freshness. I think it has great aging potential. I look forward to tasting it in five years."
And we look forward to more sparkling sauvignon blanc-induced tap dancing.
Contact Jessica Yadegaran at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @swirlgirl_jy.
Chris Christensen is one of 20 California winemakers pouring small-batch, artisanal wines at Winestock SF, an inaugural consumer tasting and educational wine event on July 20 and 21 in San Francisco. Take a class with Master of Wine Liz Thach, enjoy a three-course lunch and wine pairing, and sample specialty chocolates from local purveyors. Tickets start at $50. Firehouse 8, 1648 Pacific Ave., San Francisco. http://winestocksf.com. Visit Bodkin Wines at www.bodkinwines.com.