2020 Sonoma Valley Godello
This wine is a story of friends: I first encountered Godello as I sampled mixed-variety vineyards in Bierzo in 2008 for my Spanish friend Ricardo Perez. In Portugal it is known as Gouveio, and plays a part in more and more white blends in the north of that country, occasionally playing solo. This challenging and rewarding grape from Iberia was first produced here in 2012 under the Abrente label, a joint project with my friend Morgan Twain-Peterson. In 2015, Cave Dog took over the vineyard contract at Birdland Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. To my knowledge it is still the only offering of this variety in the New World.
Godello challenges in the vineyard by tending to create a few tiny raisins within its tight clusters (pedicel desiccation) and by being liable to sunburn. The former is no real problem once you realize it has virtually no effect when whole-cluster pressed, and the latter is easily compensated for with careful vine architecture. Its acidity is moderate, and I have learned over the last 10 years of work with it that it excels at lower “ripeness” than one might expect given the Iberian wines made from it. So our harvest sugar and resulting alcohol levels have been going down steadily each year.
That tendency got some unsolicited help in this vintage: With only half of a “normal” year’s rain, 2020 provided hints of its challenges from the start, of course on top of the pandemic that dominated our world. An early bud-break in our warm Spring pushed the season ahead of the average schedule, so when forecasts for the third week of August showed a massive heat wave approaching, we saw the need to act decisively. The verdict to advance the pick was driven by northern Sonoma fires, whose smoke was in the upper atmosphere. So we made our Godello harvest the earliest ever, in the early morning hours of August 25.
The 2020 Godello is, after all that, immediately delicious. It is broadly fruity but lively from slightly higher acidity than most years. It has developed the distinctive sweet-pea and mango flavors earlier than past vintages. I now think that cooler-site Vermentino is the best comparison for this enchanting white. Like its Iberian cousin Albariño, it pairs with a wide range of foods, including those with a marked piquancy.