Carneros: Napa Valley's Cool-Climate Appellation
Deep on the southernmost tip of Napa Valley, jutted up against the San Pablo Bay, the Carneros appellation is home to gently rolling vineyards that are planted with cool-climate-loving grape varieties. Here, the vines see plenty of morning and evening fog, though daytime brings boundless California sunshine and moderate heat. This makes the growing environment ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, allowing for Pinot Noir to maintain its varietal characteristics without being overly-ripe and for Chardonnay to keep its fresh acidity.
A Bit of History
Of the many estates in Carneros, the Bouchaine Vineyards property has a history that dates back to the 1880s. The property was first owned by a man named Boon Fly (yes, you might recognize this name from the local Boon Fly Café—an homage to the region's history), and he grew both grapes and fruit trees. The property changed hands twice, to Italian winemaker Johnny Garetto in 1927 and then into the hands of Beringer in 1950 (who used the property for storage and blending), before today's owners—Gerret and Tatiana Copeland Copeland—purchased the property in 1981. Truth is, that seed for purchasing the estate had been planted well before 1981, when the Copelands visited the region and fell in love with the property. At that time, no vines had been planted and in 1993, the Copelands had their work cut out for them.
Over the next few years, they would plant vineyards and renovate the neglected winery; in the years that followed, the Copelands purchased additional contiguous vineyards to build up their plot of land. From 2002-2015, the winemaking was led by Michael Richmond (founder of Acacia). Having recently retired, Napa native and longtime Carneros winemaker Chris Kajani now heads the winemaking and is General Manager of Bouchaine Vineyards.
I recently had the opportunity to taste some new releases from Bouchaine. The 2015 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir is a perfect accompaniment for a warm day at the beach, with its brine-like aromas that seamlessly blend with scents of watermelon, lime zest and caramel on the nose. There is nice extraction here, with a vibrant cherry color glistening in the sunlight, and a nice dry palate. With no detectable residual sugar, this is a light and refreshing wine, perfectly delicious when chilled just enough to let the flavors shine on the palate. Watermelon, red apple, minerals and again that touch of brine graces the soft and silky palate; medium acidity brings balance to the wine's roundness.
With a lively nose that is full of boysenberry and blackberry, the 2014 Estate Swan Clone Pinot Noir comes right out of the gates with fruit-forward aromatics. There are also savory, meaty aromas with dustings of orange rind and smoke. The palate brings a soft, silky texture and flavors of bright red fruit. I like the balance between strawberry and char-grilled notes, something earthy and soil-driven. This Pinot is low in acid and restrained in its fruitiness—a nicely balanced wine with smooth tannin, medium body and an oak restraint—aged in just 30% new French oak for 11 months—that brings an overall pleasant tasting experience.
And because I am already thinking abut Thanksgiving, these small production bottlings—with the Vin Gris at 480 cases and the Estate Swan Clone Pinot Noir at only 293 cases—would make excellent with Thanksgiving dinner.