Nestled among the picturesque tree-lined levees, winding waterways and orchards of the Sacramento delta, the pace of life is slower in Clarksburg. With its tap house, riverside diner and solitary stop sign, this small town is a remnant of yesteryear’s rural California. But Clarksburg also happens to be one of the finest places to grow Chenin Blanc in North America.
In a curious analogy with Bordeaux’s Médoc, drained by Dutch engineers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Clarksburg’s vineyards only became possible when the Holland Land Company’s engineers reclaimed delta marshland here in the early twentieth. Vines were planted in the early 1960s, above all Chenin Blanc, which thrives in these mineral-rich, alluvial soils—the remains of millions of tons of rock and soil, liberated from the hills by mining during the California Gold Rush and washed out to sea.
Today, market pressures have brought Chardonnay and Pinot Noir into the ascendant, but although its acreage is dwindling, Chenin remains Clarksburg’s signature variety, retaining succulent acidity thanks to the cool breezes which flow in across the delta every evening. With this combination of soils and mesoclimate, Chenin achieves full flavor development at moderate potential alcohol levels. In short, as writer Gerald Asher put it, Chenin in Clarksburg is an example of ‘the right grape in the right place’.