At best, Chenin Blanc is a minor player in California, with nowhere near the prominence it has in France’s Loire Valley or in South Africa, two of the most important regions for the grape.
In her excellent reference, “The Wine Bible,” Karen MacNeil notes that, in California, Chenin Blanc was “historically used for jug wines” but adds that it is “capable of making very tasty wines, although plantings have been in decline for some time.”
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One of those “tasty” wines is La Pitchoune’s 2017 Chenin Blanc “La Bombe” from the tiny Merritt Island sub-region of Clarksburg in northern California near Sacramento.
La Pitchoune is a small, relatively new winery in Sonoma that produces mainly Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays with grapes sourced from that region and, for a couple of years or so, the Chenin Blanc with fruit purchased from a farm (Wilson Vineyards) in Clarksburg.
While Clarksburg supplies fruit for some big-production Chenin Blancs, this one is the opposite — La Pitchoune made just 255 cases of the 2017 Chenin. And it shows. There is nothing generic about this $24 wine, which is available primarily from the winery.
It is far more than just “tasty.” This is a beautifully complex and vibrant Chenin, with notes of white peach and green apple, apricot skin, lime, and a touch of smoke. It has a long, stony finish.
The wine is aged in large, used French oak barrels, so the wood influence is almost imperceptible. Alcohol is just 12.5 percent.
This is one of the more exciting white wines from California I’ve tasted this year and has made me eager to taste La Pitchoune’s full lineup. The winery — Peter and Tracy Nielsen are the owners and Andrew Berge is the winemaker — produces only 1,200 cases a year. Based on my initial tastings, I suspect that La Pitchoune is headed for bigger things.