A Very Old Winery In Napa Valley, Bouchaine Adds To Its High Reputation For Pinot Noir With New Lines.

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Many Napa Valley wineries can claim a long history, despite successive ownership, and Bouchaine lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating winery in Carneros, at the southern tip of Napa Valley. In the late 1880s, a Missouri-born settler named Boon Fly planted grapes and fruit trees on the property, then in 1927 an Italian winemaker named Johnny Garetto bought the land and farmed it until 1961, when he sold to Beringer, which used it as a storage facility until purchased in 1981, along with other acreage, by Gerret and Tatiana Copeland, who built it into a leading label, now with 100 acres.

Recently Bouchaine installed Cisco Industrial Asset Vision sensor technology to be more precise not just in its water use but in all its growing decisions. The result, for those visiting the winery, is an opportunity to experience a “Taste of Technology” that looks at the winery’s farming practices and technology. The winery also offers “Wine and Cheese: The Perfect Match” on Saturdays at 11 a.m.

Bouchaine is well regarded for its Pinot Noirs, which are balanced and terroir-based, and their new Single Clone bottlings (Dijon, Swan, Pommard and Calera) are singular examples. As Gerrett Copeland puts it, “I have always adored the softness, roundness and the fleshiness of a great Pinot Noir. It is a wine of unique charms. In my family, wine was not part of our lifestyle—it was in our blood!” But Bouchaine is doing a wide range of varietals, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, most of them sold at the winery.

To find out what Bouchaine is doing now and for the future, I had dinner in New York with winemaker Chris Kajani.

What was your background before joining Bouchaine? What did you bring to Bouchaine?

I worked in biotech after graduating from UC Davis. A kismet meeting with a winemaker at a friend’s dinner party led me to look into UC Davis again for a Master’s in Viticulture and Enology. My first winemaking position was with Pahlmeyer. Lucky for me it was the first year they made Pinot Noir. Once I stuck my nose in those tanks, I was hooked and knew what my focus would be. After two vintages, I moved over to Saintsbury and began to fully focus on Burgundian varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). With nine vintages at Saintsbury under my belt, and a deep knowledge of all things Carneros, I came to Bouchaine ready to not only oversee winemaking but also take on the role of GM.

What evolution has taken place since you came aboard?

I was given the opportunity to push our viticulture to a higher level and replant parts of our vineyard, upgrade the winery and equipment, gain county approval and build a new hospitality center—and craft an awesome team to help get it all done!

Bouchaine makes more than 20 wines, but your single-clone Pinot Noirs are your stars. Tell me about the new line.

Pinot Noir clones are like roses, there are almost unlimited characteristics. We bottle a Swan Clone which is graceful, perfumed, and showcases fresh red fruits. Contrast that with our Pommard bottling, which has an almost creamy texture and is driven by plum and mocha notes. Then the Dijon bottling goes to the dark side, briar and spice with incredible density and layers.

Your Pinot Noirs avoid the huge, overripe style of so many California Pinots. Why and how is that achieved?

Our estate in Carneros overlooks the bay to San Francisco; we are only 35 miles north. The wind, fog, and maritime influence off the bay keeps Carneros cool during the heat of the summer. This allows for long, even ripening and bright acidity in our grapes.

You said that at Pahlmeyer, where you worked, you went for a massive style by design. How was that achieved?

Jason Pahlmeyer was a big personality and he wanted to make big wines to match that. We picked riper and focused on additional pump overs and warmer fermentations to increase extractions.

What percentage of your wines are sold at the winery and tasting rooms?

We sell about 80% of our wines from the tasting rooms.

In how many states are your wines available?

Twenty-five.

Are they sold through a wine club?

Absolutely, we love our club.

Are higher alcohol levels inevitable?

I’m lucky to be making wine in Carneros, where I drive into a fog layer almost daily. This is a wonderfully cool site. To answer your question, heat certainly increases sugar levels in grapes and these sugars are converted to alcohol. However, you can chose to pick earlier at a lower sugar level, resulting in lower alcohol. We also see more shade cloth being used and vine canopies with less leaf removal, both of which decrease sun exposure on the grape, allowing for slower ripening and less raisins.

What is Cisco Industrial Asset Vision sensor technology? What is “Wine and Cheese: The Perfect Match.”

We began a wonderful relationship with Cisco during the shutdown by holding virtual tastings with their customers and employees. When they were releasing this new sensor technology, they asked if they could use our vineyard as a living lab. So we now have Cisco sensors throughout the vineyard, giving us access to temperature, humidity, wind speed, soil moisture and additional data that allows us to dial in farming techniques and water use. As California is in a perpetual drought, mitigating water use is a big focus for us. And a stressed vine makes better wine. So keeping vine water stress within certain levels is a good thing,

You seem to be showcasing Riesling more from your Las Brisas Vineyard. Why?

We love Riesling. We love it so much that not only have we worked with Las Brisas Vineyard for over a decade, we also planted Riesling on our estate in 2017. It’s a wonderfully intriguing variety and pairs so well with food. Our obsession with Riesling is just getting started. We now have it in tank, barrel, and even clay amphorae in our cellar.

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