Clarksburg chenin blanc shines in the hands of these makers

The white grape originating in France’s Loire Valley can shape-shift into pours that range from bone dry to sweet.

Ellen Bhang

Chenin blanc, the chameleon-like white grape originating in France’s Loire Valley, captivates with its ability to shape-shift into pours that range from bone dry to sweet. The variety’s compelling charm is not lost on winemaking Californians who follow the signposts to a special region in the Golden State’s Central Valley where the grape has garnered renewed attention.

Clarksburg, an American Viticultural Area spanning portions of three counties, is situated northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area. Grapes ripen in hot summer temperatures moderated by the cooling breezes of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Growers and vintners, making the most of a landscape defined by the labyrinthine inland estuary, have elevated the quality of chenin blanc. The bright-with-acid variety, once overcropped throughout the Central Valley and routed to bulk blends in the ’70s and ’80s, definitely attracts interest. Artisan producers increasingly make the trek to Clarksburg’s conscientiously farmed vineyards.


Michael and Anne Dashe, the husband-wife team behind Dashe Cellars, founded their winery in 1996 and recently relocated operations from Oakland to Alameda. The couple is especially known for bottles of single-vineyard zinfandel sourced from trusted vineyard partners. Michael Dashe, director of winemaking, explains how he and Anne (who grew up in Brittany, France) went looking for chenin blanc, a longtime favorite. They found the quality they were seeking at Heringer Estates. “It’s right on the Delta, planted on an old levee,” enthuses Dashe about the plot. He describes how the area’s steep drop in temperature at night, combined with evening fog, preserves the variety’s acidity.

Dashe, who vinifies the wine in an egg-shaped concrete vessel, is enthusiastic about the material. “In France, lots of people use concrete, especially in the Loire,” he says. Its microporosity softens and broadens wines, making their texture, in his words, “round and velvety.”

Megan Bell, based in Santa Cruz County, launched Margins Wine in 2016 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. “When I was getting started, my goal was to make chenin blanc,” says the winemaker. Time spent working in the Loire Valley secured her affection for the variety. Bell, an indefatigable proponent of farming and vinifying as naturally as possible, asked David Ogilvie, the fourth-generation vineyard manager of Wilson Vineyards, if he would begin converting a plot of chenin blanc to organic viticulture. He agreed, and started the process in 2017.


Bell’s warmly received bottles — including a skin-fermented version that’s gossamer in weight and altogether delicious — have sparked more demand for Ogilvie’s chenin blanc.

“Every vineyard has a story,” she says. “That’s what makes it all worthwhile to me.”

Dashe Cellars, Les Enfants Terribles “Concrete Cuvée,” Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg 2017 Vivid aromas of apple, Meyer lemon, and hay, plus honeyed scents that bloom in the glass. Bright, ripe, and vivacious with textural roundness to savor. 11.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Around $21. Distributor: Boston Wine Company. At Porter Square Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-547-3110; Wines & More, Mansfield, 508-339-6900.

Margins Wine, Skin Fermented Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg 2019 Subtle scents of candied lemon and soft yellow apple combine with salt water breeziness. Delicately tangy with stony minerality and winsome texture. 10.6 percent ABV. Around $25. Distributor: Olmstead Wine Company. At Streetcar Wine & Beer, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6416; Vinodivino, Boston, 617-523-9463. (A lovely non-skin fermented version is available at Proof Somerville, Winter Hill, 617-764-0781; Allium Market, Innovation and Design Building, Boston Seaport.)


Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com

Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com