Today marks a first for Cameron Hughes Wine: Fumé Blanc.
So what, pray tell, is Fumé Blanc?
In the 1800s Sauvignon Blanc was arriving in America and by 1960 was sadly degraded into a washed up, sweet, indistinguishable wine.
Robert Mondavi decided it was time to refurbish the reputation of the grape that has made historic wines (sweet and dry styles) from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions of France.
Thus, Fumé Blanc was born.
Part marketing strategy and part revisioning, Mondavi decided to make a dry-styled Sauvignon Blanc aged in oak barrels, and relabeled with Fumé (as in Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire Valley) and Blanc (‘white’ in French) in an effort to reconfigure people’s association with the grape and its ability to show finesse.
While he could have, he chose not to trademark the naming seeing opportunities for other winemakers to save the reputation of the varietal under this new naming.
Although over time the association with the namesake became synonymous with oak ageing on the Sauvignon Blanc grape (both new oak and neutral oak expressions), there have been versions under the Fumé Blanc labeling that were unoaked expressions (see: Dry Creek Vineyards).
To this day Fumé Blanc has seen a bit of a regression in the market place as by law, it is synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon has a strong presence and perception for quality in certain market price tiers and people’s desires swung towards unoaked expressions of the grape. A little over a decade ago you’d probably never be caught dead at the family or friends dinner with a bottle of Fumé Blanc due to this shift. If you wanted oak on your wine, you bought Chardonnay, and shortly after this time, even the fully oaked Chardonnay stylings started falling out of fashion in favor of partially oaked or all stainless steel expressions taking over the market.
All things evolve with time, much like wine. With an absence of decent oaky Chardonnays in the market (barring the $40+ level), demand began increasing and again we see more affordable options slowly coming back for oaked Chardonnay.
That really made us nostalgic for long forgotten expressions of oaked white wines, and of course being Californians, Fumé Blanc was at the forefront of our minds.
A few of us were walking back in from lunch one day, and as it happens from time-to-time, Cam pops out of his office and asks us if we’d like to try something that struck his fancy and wants our thoughts. First taste and the conversation was on! Here we had an oaked white, seemed like it had some level of open-top fermentation or extended oak ageing – an almost Jura-like quality where a mild oxidation had set in. Levels of flavors and waves of unique expressions. It was difficult to pinpoint what wine it was exactly. Aside from the vanilla and buttery notes, there were almonds and a touch of spice, but there was also this zest, minerality lingering in the back, and grass, and banana on the finish…what is this!?
Cam goes on to say not only does he really love it, but he hasn’t tasted a Sauvignon Blanc like that in a long, long time. He was very proud to have acquired it as it was showing amazingly.
Full stop. Will people understand this wine? Will our customers be into it? We love to geek out, but will others join us? The questions set in. Is this the right move? It turned to a room of Doubting Toms relatively abruptly. Cam was unrelenting. He believes in his customers, he believes in expressions of wine for all (we can’t just be a Cab and Chard house, and we have had great success and quite honestly, a lot of fun, with left-of-center varietals), and he believes in showing people how wide open the world of wine can be!
It was relatively unanimous, this was not to be simply labeled as Sauvignon Blanc – this was to be labeled hyper-specifically, in the spirit of the nostalgia we’d all been feeling and the greats who preceded us, the truest naming to represent the experience in this bottle, and thus Cam indulged our nostalgia, and here we are, very excited about sharing our first ever Fumé Blanc with all of you.