Opinion

Uncorked: Gewurztraminer, an aromatic white, takes root

Winemaker Chris Kajani In Vineyard, Bouchaine

It takes an amazingly wet spot for a tractor to get stuck in July in a California vineyard.

Because rain during the growing season – even rain after May – is a rarity, it could be argued that Bouchaine has one of the wettest spots in wine country.

But rather than forsake the section, winemaker Chris Kajani capitalized. She knew if a tractor was stuck in mud on the July 4 weekend in 2017, it was time for an older block of chardonnay, that was due for a replant anyway, to get a new identity.

Gewurztraminer, an aromatic white, took root, and has thrived in the unique microclimate at the Carneros winery.

“We have some natural springs on site and some additional water,” said Kajani in a phone interview. “We knew this corner – a lower section of the vineyard that we’ve put a lot of drainage into but still got that tractor stuck – was a wetter area. Combined with the influence from San Pablo Bay that leads to wind and cool weather, we thought a wine with vibrant acidity could play well in a wet boggy area.”

The 1.6-acre site is tailored for gewurztraminer, which has bigger vines, a larger cluster and really pulls the water from the ground when ripening.

“If you stand on the vineyard terraces, you can see the Bay,” Kajani said. “You can see the San Francisco financial district. The city is basically 30 miles south of us across the Bay. All that maritime influence and cool breeze off the Bay – the fog – allows us to capture really vivid energy in the wines. I love standing up there, the breeze is so strong, it’ll blow my sunglasses off.”

From that small site, Kajani crafted a wine that bursts with aromas of pear tree blossom on the nose, flavors of green melon, and, despite a crisp minerality that runs through the entire experience, a round mouthfeel that gives the wine an extra dimension.

Every part of the flavor profile plays a role. Just the way she wanted.

“There are two ways to look at it,” Kajani said. “When I sit down and blend, I turn on and off the different sides of my brain. I look for no elbows in the wine. I don’t want acid sticking out too much. I don’t want alcohol sticking out too much. If the wine is in oak, I don’t want that sticking out. I want flow across the palate, and textures with no elbows. We are interested in a dry, crisp style. That’s what we focus on. It’s a food-friendly wine.”

On the verge of another harvest, Kajani has made it through the majority of the growing season. There’s always things out of her control: a freak rainstorm, random wildfire or sudden heatwave.

But, she’ll stay true to her site. Like a gymnast at the end of a routine, harvest is the landing, and she only gets to give it one shot.

“You have to put anxiety in your back pocket as a winemaker,” Kajani said. “Every decision is critical, all choices matter during the growing season. All really show in the bottle. The creative process draws a lot of people to the process, and we all always wonder if it’s the right decision. There are many ways to stick the landing though. If you were to talk to 500 winemakers, all would do it differently based on their site, microclimate and soil.”

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.

TASTING NOTES

• Banshee, California, “Ten of Cups” Brut Sparkling Wine ($26): Winemaker Alicia Sylvester said she wanted to “dabble in the sparkling game.” Her maiden voyage delivered a wine with crunchy acidity, green apple and toasty almond flavors.

Frog’s Leap, Rutherford Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($75): Father-and-son winemaking duo John and Rory Williams never chased trends. When Napa went to huge flavors and over-extraction, they plotted their way through harvest and in the cellar like they always have: being true to the vintage, and bottling delicious wines. Flavors of currant, black cherry, sage, rosemary, loamy earth and the signature Rutherford dust permeate a wine with tannins that have a touch of the rustic Old World style.

• Stolpman, Santa Barbara County, So Fresh “Love You Bunches” Sangiovese 2021 ($26): If every summer has a song – Drake’s “Nice for What”; Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”; fun’s “We Are Young”; and going back in time a bit, Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” are a few that come to mind – then Pete Stolpman has made the wines of the summer with a pair of whole-cluster, native fermentation wines where he used carbonic maceration. With carbon dioxide pumped into a sealed tank until the berries swell and pop, the result is fresh, fruit, light-texture, high-acidity wines that are served chilled and ready to drink in their youth. Think of raspberry Jolly Rancher for a flavor profile.

• Stolpman, Central Coast, So Fresh “Love You Bunches” Rose 2021 ($26): Made like its sangiovese counterpart, with fresh watermelon, canned Sprite and pinkish green strawberry notes.

Gewurztraminer by Bouchaine
Winemaker Chris Kajani In Vineyard, Bouchaine