Basel Cellars Chenin Blanc 2020
Ripe Pineapple, Stone Fruits, Fresh Fennel, Sage, Wet Stones
Devotees of our New World Red and Reserve Clubs are no doubt familiar with our friends at Basel Cellars, as over the years we have featured many of their celebrated red wines. Many of you may remember our feature of the Basel Cellars Vue de Blues in September, 2020. That wine was produced from the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, a common blend in Washington State. In 2015, when Basel Cellars hired Dirk Brink as head winemaker, he wanted to make a Chenin Blanc to add to their white wine portfolio. Originally from South Africa, Brink loves the variety and the warm, dry climate of makes it a natural winner thanks to the grapes ability to retain acidity at high levels of ripeness. Brink has worked in Washington State for years and knew right where to look, finding an old vine block of Chenin Blanc in the Horse Heaven Hills sub-AVA of the Columbia River Valley.
In the early days of the Washington State wine business, when they were trying to figure out what varieties would grow best in the region, Chenin Blanc was a natural choice. Unlike most white grapes, Chenin Blanc thrives in warm climates, achieving high levels of concentration and texture, while retaining natural acidity for freshness. Unfortunately Chenin Blanc has never been fashionable and growers shifted to Chardonnay due to its commercial appeal. However, some growers never replanted these experimental vineyards so there are small, old vine blocks dotting the Columbia River VAlley. Basel Cellars uses one such block, planted in 1980, to produce 170 cases. This Chenin Blanc is rarely seen outside of the winery’s own club program but now under new ownership they opened the cellar doors, which enables us to bring you this rare gem.
2019 was a difficult growing season at first in many parts of Washington, as a persistent February frost meant that many vineyard parcels ripened much later in the year. As a result, the winery’s old Chenin Blanc vines were harvested in mid-October, almost a month later than usual. Consequently, this extra period of hang time further concentrated the natural sugars within the grapes, resulting in a crop that displays vivid tropical fruit characteristics alongside the typical acidity found in Chenin Blanc. With the first fall frost approaching the grapes were quickly picked by hand just as temperatures began to dip into the 30s.