We just released our 2012 vintage of our Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc! Yes, you read that right; even Riesling Zealots like us enjoy a different varietal every now again. After all, Chenin is a bit like Riesling in a way… it can be made it in many different styles (which could be why it is so misunderstood).
Chenin Blanc is actually the second wine we bottled way back in 1999. Since it’s been around for so long, the wine has gathered a loyal following within the walls of the winery and our friends and family (I think this might be the favorite wine of at least a third of the team). However, it does not always sell to our expectations. Many people do not know Chenin Blanc and shy away from it – which is a shame because it makes a very nice wine.
Similarly to Riesling, Chenin Blanc makes a great wine at all sugar levels, although; I love making ours around 1% residual sugar. We made about 3,000 cases last year. Our grapes come from Hahn Hill Vineyard in the Columbia Valley – some of the oldest vines in Washington (legend has it that they were planted in 1968)! It is almost impossible to screw up Chenin Blanc from a vineyard with 30+ year old vines, the grapes are so predictable that they practically bottle themselves.
Chenin was one of the original grapes planted in the state of Washington and I think that if you look at the age of the vines out there, you would find that all the total acreage is fairly old (30 years +). This works out perfectly since it takes 15 years for a Chenin Blanc vineyard to taste great. Sadly, Chenin Blanc production is slowing dramatically. I’d guess there is only about 200 acres left in Washington. As the acreage ages, the yields start to decrease – yields start to decline on most vineyards after 25 years of production – and since no one is willing to pay top dollar for Chenin Blanc, slowly but surely growers are forced to pull out the vines to replace with something more profitable.
This varietal has the potential to be a flagship for the state but I am afraid the market is not ready quite yet. Perhaps a few geeky sommeliers would love it, but I am dubious about its mass potential for now. Of course, I would have thought the same of Moscato 5 years ago – so don’t take my comment as an absolute prediction.