What is Semillon?
“What is Semillon?”
This is the first and most common question I receive when pouring this wine at a public tasting. Happens every time. So, if you are thinking the same right now, you are in good company. “Semillon is the most famous wine you have never heard of’” is my response. (Sidebar: It is also the most mispronounced grape varietal. I politely respond, 'Seh-Mee-Yhon'. This word contains no “L” sound at all - as in many Latin-based languages. Most people tentatively offer “Say-mill-on” or “Say-million” as in the six figure number. Just drop the two L’s and you will be close enough.)
Semillon grape clusters on the vine at our vineyard in Willow Creek, CA.
Semillon is the grape that gave rise to most expensive bottle of white wine in the world, when Christian Vanneque purchased a bottle of 1811 Chateau d'Yquem in 2011 for $117,000. Today a bottle of 1921 Château d’Yquem can be purchased for around $13,000, if you can find it. And over the entire history of Château d’Yquem, it holds the title of producing the highest valued wine per bottle in the world.
Semillon is the grape of Sauterne - a French wine region and the most highly sought after sweet wines in the world. Their price comes from the unique combination of environmental circumstances that produce them, the fact that they can age forever and finally, because they are truly an amazing explosion of deliciousness unmatched by nature or man anywhere.
An example of Noble Rot (Botrytis cinerea) on a Semillon grape cluster.
When weather and growing parameters are just right, which happen in the region of Sauterne with regularity, the grapes become infected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as Noble Rot. The result of this infection makes the grapes sweeter, honey flavored and extremely complex from the additional fungal compounds mixing with the grape compounds. This is the magic and rarity of Sauternes and other botrytised wines. Many different grapes can produce good botrytised wines, including Chenin Blanc of Vouvray, Rieslings of the Rheingau and Hungarian Tokaj. But there is just something special about botrytised Semillon from Sauterne.
Semillon is also at least half of a Bordeaux Blanc dry table wine. It is commonly blended with Sauvignon Blanc in this part of France and surrounding areas. Bordeaux is most recognized for it’s bold, long lived reds, but if you are traveling anywhere between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers of France and have a white wine you are more than likely drinking a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
It is in this tradition that our Stargazer Barn Semillon is produced. At our Gardner Ranch Vineyard, both Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are grown together. Our Sauvignon Blanc always has a touch of Semillon blended in and when conditions are just right we also make a dry Semillon. Unlike the honey-sweet, botrytised version, this style is crisp, clean and refreshing. It is made to be the perfect companion to a summer picnic, seafood or just cooling off on the banks of the nearby Trinity River where the Semillon is grown. Our Semillon tastes and smells something like a citrus blossom combined with honeydew melon and a touch of caramelized walnut.
If you like to explore wines and are looking for something rare and unique, I am certain you will love our Semillon.
Cheers, Winemaker Wil