Roark Wine Co. Chenin Blanc 2013
Ryan started his journey with a fascination for farming; he studied plant pathology and microbiology at Texas A&M where he was able to take part in an agricultural exchange program that placed him with a small family-owned winery located in the Loire Valley. There he worked the land and learned the skills that he would take with him throughout France, New Zealand, and California .
What began as a 100 case Chenin Blanc project has evolved into a small grape growing and winemaking operation. Ryan and his small team farm a handful of vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County while also sourcing grapes from trusted growers to produce about 1,500 cases of wine per year.
Ranging from cool and foggy in the west to warm and dry in the east, the Santa Ynez Valley is a climatically diverse growing area. The most expansive AVA within the larger Santa Barbara County region, Santa Ynez is also home to a wide variety of soil types and geographical features. The appellation is further divided into four distinct sub-AVAs—Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District and Happy Canyon—each with its own defining characteristics.
A wide selection of grapes is planted here—more than sixty different varieties, and counting. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir dominate in the chilly west, while Zinfandel, Rhône blends, and Bordeaux blends rule the arid east. Syrah is successful at both ends of the valley, with a lean and peppery, Old-World sensibility closer to the coast and lush berry fruit further inland.
Unquestionably one of the most diverse grape varieties, Chenin blanc can do it all. It shines in every style from bone dry to unctuously sweet, oaked or unoaked, still or sparkling and even as the base for fortified wines and spirits. Perhaps Chenin blanc’s greatest asset is its ever-present acidity, maintained even under warm growing conditions. While most would agree it reigns supreme when from its birthplace of the Loire Valley, Chenin is the most planted variety in South Africa. California’s Clarksburg appellation is also winning more notoriety for its Chenin.
In the Glass
Chenin's drier versions commonly have characteristics of passion fruit, lemon, quince, green apple, saffron and chamomile while sweeter version express aromas and flavors such as yellow pear, white peach, persimmon, melon, ginger and honeysuckle. When aged in oak, qualities like meringue and brioche can be found. Sparkling versions often have yellow apple, ginger and floral notes.
Cool-climate Chenin blanc has the chalky acidity to work with light seafood such as oysters and shellfish. Off-dry styles work well with the sweet-and-sour nature of Thai and Vietnamese food. The sparkling versions such as Saumur Mousseux, Vouvray Petillant and Crémant de Loire make amazing aperitif options that won’t bruise the pocketbook.
South Africa actually has double the amount of Chenin blanc planted compared to France. It is believed that either the Dutch navigator, Jan van Riebeeck, brought the grape to Cape Town in 1655 or the Huguenots fleeing France brought it in 1685. Either way, the South Africans have favored it for many centuries and make it in almost every style. Today a new wave of dedicated producers has committed to restoring old Chenin vines and finding the most ideal new spots for this prized variety.