A taste of Bouchaine
It’s always an interesting thing for me to meet a wine maker or wine personality for the first time. You never know what to expect, the personalities are as varied as wine itself.
Recently, I had the pleasure of dining and talking with Greg Gauthier of Bouchaine Vineyards. I walked into the dimly lit steakhouse and in the back at a table by himself sat a man with a table of wine bottles and a few boxes of wine by his side. He greeted me warmly and said they were still getting the private room ready, and would I like to grab a beer while we wait. So we went over to the bar which allowed us to begin our conversation.
We sat and drank water instead of beer. It was at least 110F outside in the Phoenix summer heat. I asked him how he was enjoying the weather. He smiled and chuckled. The private room became ready a few minutes later and we continued our 3 hour conversation there.
Greg brought some of the current line up of Bouchaine Vineyards wines out including several Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. As we began sipping he asked me to hold off for a minute, he summoned the wait staff and ask them to bring an olive, a piece of lemon skin, some salt and a few other morsels. He carried out a little sensory experiment for me that was quite fascinating. Try the unoaked chardonnay, then drop a piece of lemon skin the size of a small nail head in the glass. After only having been in the glass for a few seconds, the wine was completely changed and overpowered by lemon citrus, yet it still tasted quite nice. It tasted just like a New Zealand style sauvignon blanc.
These taste experiments lead into a discussion about the current marketing strategy of Bouchaine. It’s not really a strategy like one hatched up by Don Draper, more like an approach to explaining the wines. It’s Greg’s job to travel the country with his wines and talk with chef’s and restauranteurs and try to get them to see these wines as companions to food. Not just companions but soul mates. Just as the lemon skin changed the Chardonnay, I could now imagine that wine pairing very nicely with a salmon ( Pacific, NOT farmed) with lemon juice dressing. Or something along those lines.
When the waitress came back we inquired about the salmon on the menu. Is it Pacific or Atlantic salmon? This is a question that you should really ask any time Salmon is on the menu and a huge pet peeve of mine. But that’s a topic for another article. After the waitress explained that it was special organic Atlantic salmon, Greg and I both said almost in unison “I think I’ll have a steak”
We tasted through the wines while Greg gave me a brief history of the Bouchaine operation. Bouchaine is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Carneros District. The Carneros District is one of only a few American Viticultural Areas (A.V.A’s) located in two counties. The Carneros district is located in both Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley at the edge of San Pablo bay. The area is prone to fog and cool ocean breezes and is really ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot noir.
Bouchaine, 2011 “Chene d’Agent” Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley
This is a crisply acidic and refreshing wine, loads of citrus some nice mineral notes. Fermented in stainless steel and weighing at 13% alc, this is really a very refreshing take on the typical massive alcoholic butterbombs that are all too common in California wine these days. Only 246 cases produced.
Bouchaine, 2011 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley
This wine is a completely different style than the last, and equally interesting. The wine was aged in 15% new French, American and Hungarian oak, with 50% undergoing malolactic fermentation. With a production run of just over 6,000 cases this wine should be readily available in most fine wine stores and dining establishments. “You probably won’t find it on your local grocery shelf though” Greg said. The wine has a much softer mouth feel than the previous wine, a nice hint of butterscotch.
Bouchaine, 2012 Estate Vineyard Pinot Meunier. Carneros, Napa Valley
This wine saw 11 months in 33% new French oak barrels and weighs in at 13.85% alcohol. A little over 400 cases were made. First, a little about Pinot Meunier… one of 3 noble grapes used in the production of Champagne, very rarely used in the production of dry red wine. Closely related to Pinot Noir.
This wine really reminded me of South African Pinotage. A really robust backbone of tannins, black plums, pine forest, smokey oak, cinnamon. Very complex. This was definitely my favorite of the night
Bouchaine, 2010 Pinot Noir, Carneros.
I forgot to ask Greg why the labeling was different on this bottle, no mention of Napa there. This wine also saw 11 months in 33% new French oak with alcohol almost identical to the Pinot Meunier at 13.8% With production at a little under 10,000 cases this wine should be available at most wine shops and restaurants. This is a good solid cool climate Pinot Noir that Carneros is so well known for. Flavors of strawberry, red cherry with a little spice and earth. Robust acidity and tannins.
The rest of the night was spent just talking about a wide range of subjects, a lot to do with wine, but also a lot to do with life. Greg’s humor really started to come out a little later on. He has a very understated sense of humor. We had talked about the weather with the manager briefly and she mentioned that our waitress had a mild case of heat stroke a few days before whilst riding her bike in the midday Phoenix summer heat (115F). When the waitress returned Greg very casually mentioned: “I hear you enjoy riding your bike…”
“Not in this heat” she said.
On my next trip to Napa I will definitely be taking a side trip to Carneros and Bouchaine vineyards. It’s really very close, literally about 15 minutes from downtown Napa. Hopefully Greg will be there to show me around!