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Dear Dr. Vinny,
During a winery visit in South Africa I was told that their Sauvignon Blanc has citrus flavors due to the proximity of the vineyard to a citrus orchard. This sounded like a bunch of hooey to me. What do you think?
—Yossi, Binyamina, Israel
It’s unlikely, but it’s not the craziest idea ….
Many vintners have found an anecdotal link between grapes from vineyards grown in the vicinity of eucalyptus trees and notes of eucalyptus—sometimes reading as “minty” or “camphor”—in the resulting wines.
There’s been a lot of research into this eucalyptus phenomenon, and evidence has been found to support it. The active organic compound in eucalyptus oil is called eucalyptol, and it's been shown to attach itself to the waxy surface of grapes, where it can then make its way into the wine when the grapes are crushed. The closer the vineyard to the eucalyptus trees, the more likely it is the compound will show up. Eucalyptus leaves and nuts (there’s an industry term called MOG, or "matter other than grapes," that applies here) that might fall into a grape bin during harvest can also contribute eucalyptol.
Even though there are plenty of examples of eucalyptus trees grown near vineyards (they make good windbreaks), there are fewer examples of citrus orchards grown near vineyards. So even though I’ve never heard of this specific transfer of flavors, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that citrus oils could also attached themselves to grapes. However, Sauvignon Blanc is naturally citrusy, and that's a far more likely explanation.
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