WINES MADE FROM the Symphony grape strike no discordant notes. A wine grape named Symphony? Yes, it is an American wine varietal that was developed over a 42-year period at UC Davis’ department of viticulture and enology.
A hybrid of European vinifera, Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria, the grape was developed under the guidance of Harold P. Olmo at UC Davis and was known as J5-58. It was named when a wine maker at a Wine Institute tasting for this varietal expressed amazement at the complexity of flavors and aromas, which he likened to the orchestration of a symphony.
In 1983, the hybrid Symphony Winegrape Cultivar was patented. The grape has two distinctive characteristics: It’s not bitter when it’s fermented to total dryness, and after bottling, it maintains its fresh-fruit taste and floral bouquet for years.
Rapturously delectable wines made from these grapes are commercially available from the Chateau DeBaun Vineyards and Winery of Santa Rosa.
When winery owner Ken DeBaun first planted 20 acres of Symphony grapes in 1982, he took on the project as a marketing challenge. He had started the year before with 116 acres of premium vineyard land, 60 of which were planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer grapes. Then he learned about the Symphony varietal and sampled some of the wines from the UC Davis Library of Wines. He was so impressed that he planted the world’s first commercial vineyard of Symphony grapes and hired Roland Shackelford from Piper-Sonoma. Today, there are 96 acres of Symphony grapes.
Since the first release of Chateau DeBaun wines in 1986, 82 medals have been awarded to its Symphony wines and champagnes. Yet they remain eclipsed by the popular Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. I hope that this report on Symphony will bring these wines a broad, new audience. In its range of styles, each performance has masterly virtuosity.
Some Chateau DeBaun Symphony wines in current release:
ROMANCE 1986 Symphony Brut Champagne ($10.99): Here is a methode champenoise sparkler, of 100% Symphony grapes, with an intriguing Muscat, melonlike fragrance, like a fine Asti Spumante. In Brut style, the wine is dry, crisp, appetizing.
OVERTURE 1986 Dry Symphony ($8). Here, the titillating hint of Muscat aromas in the bouquet draws you in, but to a silky dry finish. The wine is as smooth as satin.
CLASSICAL JAZZ ($5.49). The label reads: “A lively blend of Symphony (38%) Chardonnay (15%) and Pinot Noir (47%) wines.” Like good jazz, it is full of happy surprise turns, ideal for picnics of festive fun. Off-dry, it has 1.0% residual sweetness; one swallow leads to another and another.
FINALE 1987 Late Harvest Symphony (Tenths $14). Scents and tastes of golden apricots. Made from the first year the Symphony grapes developed the “noble rot” of Botrytis mold; the wine has an extra-luscious richness. It won a gold medal at the San Francisco Exposition in 1988.
Glasses from Crate & Barrel; sheet music by Ron Harper.