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Meet the Makers

Chris Christensen: Making Sauvignon Blanc Sparkle

The story of bringing Chris Christensen’s signature sparkling sauvignon blanc to a can.

Chris Christensen, Maker Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

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Meet Chris Christensen

We first shared Chris’ story in the Fall of 2019 with the launch of the Maker rosé‎‎. He broke all the rosé‎ rules to create a beautiful blend that brought together diverse wines from the North Coast of California, reflecting his own multiracial background. 

A self-taught vintner from a non-drinking household in Iowa, Chris has always done things his own way. Known for his “super finesse,” he creates pretty, aromatic wines that just sing. As he says, “who knew a guy so gritty could make wines this pretty.”

While by day he’s the head honcho at Bodkin wines, he’s also collaborated on several can projects, and knows more about the nuances of canning premium wine than just about anybody. In addition to being one of our first winemaker partners, Chris has become part of our team. As the Maker “can coach”, he helps winemakers new to the format learn the ins and outs of finishing their wines for a can.

So it feels pretty special to now bring Coach Chris’s signature wine to a can: 100% sauvignon blanc — with bubbles

Coach Chris ready to rock-and-roll at canning day.

The Bubbly Sauv Blanc Backstory

Creating sparkling sauvignon blanc was an idea Chris had kicked around since 2008. As a self-described, “maker of obscure wines from common varietals,” he was intrigued by the potential of sparkling sauv blanc. 

He never found it in the US, but in 2011 he worked his first harvest in Australia, and stopped over in New Zealand on the way back. It was there that he finally found sauvignon blanc with bubbles. The verdict? Wellllll the wines were, “varying levels of bad to okayish.” 

It turns out that it’s tough to make sparkling sauvignon blanc. My interpretation of Chris’ much more technical explanation is that typically you pick sparkling wine grapes earlier to keep acid high and sugar concentration low, ideal characteristics to make bubbly. However, when sauvignon blanc is picked early, it can have that “underripe green bean, cat-pee, vegetable vibe” — no bueno.

If the Fruit Fits

Red flags abound, he still kept the idea in the back of his mind. And in this case, the fruit came to him. In the first vintage of what would become Bodkin wines in 2011, he sourced sauvignon blanc from a small family-owned, certified sustainable vineyard in Lake County, a wine region north of Clear Lake in California. 

If you drink premium sauvignon blanc, you’ve likely had Lake County grapes. Known for being blended with Napa fruit in high-end sauvignon blancs, Lake County is now making a name for itself in its own right — with bright-citrus, aggressively agreeable sauvignon blanc.

Lake County, an under the radar region for Suav Blanc. Image Source: Nathan DeHart Photography via lakecountywinegrape.org.

Chris found that even though the fruit was picked late in the 2011 vintage, the Brix (measure of sugar levels) remained low and the chemistry looked promising. He had an “ah-ha moment” — this might be the vineyard whose fruit could pull off bubbly sauvignon blanc without a whiff of cat-pee to be found.

For the next vintage in 2012, he decided to give it a shot. “I had never made sparkling base, never worked in a sparkling house. Looking back that was nuts. What was I thinking? I was young and green and it was a huge leap of faith.” 

He took out an advance on two credit cards, and decided to go for it.

Stone Cold Lemonade

Spoiler alert: it worked. He’s credited as the first American to make sparkling sauvignon blanc.

“When I first tried it I thought, ‘holy moly this tastes like lemonade, stone cold lemonade. It’s got that shock and awe factor.”

When you think sparkling wine, you likely think of champagne. Which, of course, is lovely. But champagne is a hard wine, acidic, and often food-dependent. 

This wine is very different. It’s lively citrus, it’s passion-fruit, it’s very, very sauvignon blanc. It can be enjoyed with or without food — it’s thirst quenching. 

“It’s a quaffable summer beverage, that is so light, so refreshing, that it has almost transcended the genre of wine. Es crushablé.‎” – Chris
The Maker Christensen Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc.
“One does not half step, this is 100% sauvignon blanc. That’s just a flex.” – Chris Christensen

Grip It and Sip It.

Chris was pumped to find that the addition of the can actually elevated the experience of drinking sparkling sauvignon blanc. Unlike with the “charmat” method, where natural fermentation creates bubbles in the tank, this wine is carbonated “in-line” right before it hits the can. Typically yeast-driven C02 creates the bready, brioche flavors found in champagne. The in-line method keeps this baby all sauv blanc.

“I stone cold flipped out. when I first tried it, it’s refreshing; tertiary aromas from secondary fermentation can tamp down attributes of sparkling wine. It’s even cleaner, even tighter, even more sauvignon blanc.”

Compared to champagne, this method in a can means you’re getting about ½ the carbonation. Rather than being a bug, we see that as a feature. It’s refreshing, it’s quaffable, it’s crushable. It’s sauvignon blanc first, sparkling second.

While we typically advise you to pour our wine in a glass, we actually recommend drinking this one straight outta the can to preserve that precious, precious, C02. Or as Chris says, “Grip it and sip it.”

Group canning day for sparkling sauvignon blanc with Chris Christensen.
Our not-so-glamorous social distancing + masks canning day.
Grip it and sip it!
Maker Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

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We’re proud to support black winemakers and diverse voices in wine. We’re donating 100% of profits of this wine in June and July to UNCF - an org funding scholarships for black students.

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