by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Over the years, we have heard a lot of interesting explanations of what prompted people to become winemakers. Many came from agricultural backgrounds while others just loved to drink wine. Perhaps the most unique, though, is the story of Chris Kajani.
Now the general manager and winemaker at Bouchaine, Kajani (pictured right) was stumped by her father’s eagerness for the teenager to get her driver’s license. It wasn’t long after the Napa native was legally behind the wheel when her father’s motive became clear: he wanted her to be a designated driver as he spent the day in wine tasting rooms.
The well-traveled wine route and an occasional foray into her father’s cellar sparked a latent dive into making wine. Although she started in biotech, she worked harvests, enjoyed wine and eventually returned to the University of California at Davis to earn a masters degree in viticulture and enology. She worked at Saintsbury for nine harvests before joining Bouchaine.
At Bouchaine Kajani is able to pursue her love of red burgundy, a passion shared by owners Tatiana and Gerret Copeland – as well as legendary wine consultant and Russian émigré Andre Tchelistcheff who told the Copelands they “must plant pinot noir here.” The Copelands founded Bouchaine in 1981, making it one of the oldest, continuously family-owned vilneyard properties in the Carneros AVA.
They hired Kajani in 2015 and embarked on a program to replace a ramshackle building -- affectionately called the “slaughterhouse” -- with a beautiful visitor’s center. They expanded their vineyards to 104 acres, initiated sustainable farming and in 2004 Bouchaine became the first in Napa Valley to have a Fish Friendly Certified vineyard.
Although Bouchaine makes numerous wines, chardonnay and pinot noir reign here. Located in Napa County at southern end of Carneros, Bouchaine vineyards benefit from cooling breezes and rolling fog off San Pablo Bay. Temperatures can swing from the mid-80s during the day to the 40s at night. Such diurnal swings lengthen the ripening process and provides fresh acidity to the wines.
That was evident in the 2018 Bouchaine Estate Chardonnay ($35), one of the best chardonnays we’ve tasted from this vintage at this price point. Wines from this region are more citrus and nectarine focused. It is an elegant, vibrant wine with freshness, balance, just a kiss of oak and a long finish.
Kajani said the chardonnay vineyard was planted in 1984 and the roots dive three feet down.
“They regulate themselves and bring the same level of crop and character year after year,” she said.
Equally elegant is the 2018 Bouchaine Estate Pinot Noir ($35). Although Bouchaine makes clone-designed pinots at nearly twice the price, it’s the estate pinot noir that is easy to find and well worth the price. There are oodles of strawberry, plum and red cherry flavors and a floral, rose petal aroma.
When Kajani was hired, Gerret Copeland told her not to “screw up the pinot meunier,” his favorite wine. She didn’t. Grown on a low, three-acre plot that favors this hardy grape variety, the 2018 Bouchaine Estate Pinot Meunier ($68) exudes a savory character, dark fruit and mushroom flavors with a lot of fine tannin and a sturdy body.
The Los Vascos label goes back decades for us. When we first got into wine in the late 1970s, this Chilean label represented one of the best values in both red and white wines. That hasn’t changed today, although since 1988 the property has been operated by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). The first French viticulturist to invest in Chile, DBR introduced drip irrigation and new vineyard plantings to the property.
The wines got even better.
In a virtual tasting with Philippe Rolet, general manager of this Colchagua property, we were introduced to two new releases under the Cromas label. Both represent good values in red wine.
The Los Vascos Cromas Carmenere Gran Reserva 2019 ($22) is a rich expression of the native carmenere grape variety. Using grapes planted on mountain foothills, it has effusive black fruit notes and soft tannins.
The Cromas Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2018 ($22) is equally substantial in ripe fruit character but more akin to red fruit, such as strawberries, with hints of dried herbs and tobacco. Syrah and carmenere are blended with 85 percent cabernet sauvignon.
Although these wines have aging potential, their ripeness and medium body make them enjoyable now.
Another good value is the Los Vascos Chardonnay ($14).
Roaming Dog Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($15). From Washington’s Columbia Valley, this tasty wine has ripe black fruit flavors, easy tannins and a medium body to complement light fare.
Silverado Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($58). This estate-grown cabernet sauvignon, blended with 14 percent merlot and one percent cabernet franc, has the power and concentration that we have grown to expect from this venerable producer. Using grapes from three historic estate vineyards, Silverado has a full-bodied wine with herbal aromas and sweet raspberry and blackberry flavors, a hint of tobacco and vanilla.
True Myth Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($24). While prices have skyrocketed for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon blends, Paso Robles offers good value as winemakers here have made great strides with this grape variety. Blended with 22 percent syrah from Edna Valley, the blend shows off a soft and delicious profile with cherry cola, blackberry and currant flavors with a hint of oak-inspired mocha and vanilla.