Question from Pete: I heard that Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc are the same grape. Is that true? What’s the difference?
This comes up all the time. The grape variety is called Sauvignon Blanc. The name Fumé Blanc was dreamed up by Robert Mondavi
to help him sell Sauvignon Blanc at a time when it was unpopular.
You have to go back to the 1960s, the when the groundwork was being laid for the second wine boom in California – the first was in the 1880s. In the sixties, very little Sauvignon Blanc was made. And what there was, was usually sweet and mediocre at best.
Robert Mondavi spent significant time in Bordeaux, Burgundy and other famous winegrowing regions in France to observe growing and winemaking techniques. While there, he was quite taken by the dry Sauvignon Blanc wines made in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. He was sure he could sell a similar style at home if he wasn’t encumbered by the unpopular name, Sauvignon Blanc, and all the negative baggage that went with it.
In the Loire Valley, dry Sauvignon Blanc is sold under a variety of names such as Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and Blanc Fumé. So, he took the name Blanc Fumé and flipped it around to come up with Fumé Blanc.
Sales took off. Never underestimate the power of marketing! He didn’t trademark the name and a number of other wineries adopted it. It’s not as commonly used these days, but you can still buy wine called Fumé Blanc from Grgich Hills, Chateau St. Jean, Ferrari-Carrano, Dry Creek, Hogue Cellars and others.
As it happens, most wineries that have adopted the name oak age their Fumé Blanc, just as Robert Mondavi Winery does. But there’s no regulation in that regard. The best thing to do if you’re shopping is to ask whether the wine is oaked or not so you know what you’re getting.
So, while Fumé Blanc isn’t a grape, it certainly is a wine – and a delicious one!
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