Titus Brothers Shooting Blancs
First Time Out
Titus brothers no longer red all over as they weigh in with their own Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
June 25, 2009
The affable Titus brothers, at Titus Vineyards on the Silverado Trail northeast of St. Helena, apparently know of what Napa Sauvignon Blanc is capable. But with the release of their first white, I didn’t get the impression that they’re taking it too seriously, at least not yet.
Don’t mistake me here: The wine, from the 2008 vintage coming from 2½ acres in a corner of their 40-acre vineyard, is a perfectly lovely first offering. It’s full of tropical fruit, mostly Crenshaw melon; and it is lush and perfectly balanced.
That last descriptor embodies Titus’ wines. Phillip, the younger brother, is the winemaker at Titus Vineyards (as well as the winemaker for the renowned Chappellet Winery). Eric is the grape grower for their family enterprise. But until the release of this white wine, Titus had staked its claim on reds; well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Francs and Zinfandels.
Now, a Sauvignon Blanc has managed to work its way into their modest, previously-all-red portfolio. As Eric told me when I asked him why he’s gone over to the white side, “We have this plot close to the (Napa) river that had Zinfandel. It was funky and diseased; and it was far and away our worst block; and it automatically would have been our worst stuff. It turned out to be good soil for Sauvignon Blanc.”
Additionally, and I’ve heard this ad nauseam from more than a few producers, whenever Eric would present his wines at tastings or dinners, there was no white wine in the queue. It is in this low key way that a white has been introduced into Titus’ lineup, which heretofore has been awash in some of the more balanced reds coming out of the Napa Valley. Titus’ inaugural white augurs well to following suit, but not if the Titus’ don’t tighten up the regimen.
Case in point: Eric, who according to his bro is an SB proponent (while Phillip has been making a fine Chenin Blanc for years for the Chappellets), comments that the varietal fits in nicely with his other Bordeaux varieties. But when asked if he’s betrayed the red wine brother and sisterhoods, Eric admits, “I’m still getting used to (the idea). … There’s a little bit of getting used to it.” He also quips, “I find I have to drink enough of it to get used to it.”
To make matters worse, Phillip, when pressed about whether the guys are going to get serious about this wine, chimes in to me, “It’s not the most complicated wine to make. …”
Offers Eric: “It’s more a complement to what we do, but how good can Sauvignon Blanc be? It’s not something that will drop you to your knees.”
When I tell them that I haven’t heard them say, “We want to make the best Sauvignon Blanc,” as all winemakers say when they tell you about their wines, Phillip counters, “It’s always the assumption that you’re going to be making the best Sauvignon Blanc you can. That’s second nature to us. But we’re not a Sauvignon Blanc specialist, by any means.” Yet.
The first time out, Phillip explains that the “target” apropos alcohol was 14 percent (it came in at a stated 14.1 after harvesting at a very modest 22.8 percent Brix), “for the delicacy of the fruit. “We thought we could get the wine under 14, but de-alcing (removing some alcohol) would have been too much engineering. It seems so unnecessary with Sauvignon Blanc.”
Eric does suggest though that the style of the wine will “evolve … two years from now. It will be different as the vineyard comes into full development.”
To be fair, the parcel was planted, in deep soil, to SB only in 2003. The first wine (which sells for $20) was vinted without barrels but Phillip is toying with the idea of putting subsequent portions of it in concrete barrels shaped like “eggs” and/or stainless steel barrels, which he thinks will give it more elegance; and perhaps planting new clones and even introducing a bit of oak and malolactic fermentation (a secondary procedure to soften the acidity). “This is a microcosm of what we do,” he says, not at all defensive. “… This is a starting point.”
Crossing over to the white side seems a bit incongruous for the men of Titus, proving that the Napa Valley doesn’t live by red alone.
Photo by Alan Goldfarb