Visiting Bouchaine Vineyards

bouchA couple of days ago I visited Bouchaine Vineyards in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Carneros is in many ways Napa's answer to Burgundy. There are vast differences of course, but in simplest terms, both regions are best known for their production of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Each is also known for emphasizing the impact that a specific place has on the profile of a wine. In Carneros this is a newer movement than in Burgundy where it's been that way for generations. While I spent time with a number of the folks that work in varying positions at Bouchaine, most of my time was spent with winemaker Mike Richmond. Mike has been with Bouchaine Vineyards since 2002. He has over 30 years experience in the Wine industry, much of it within the Carneros appellation. Touring the vineyards and facility at Bouchaine it was clear that Mike has guided this winery in the direction of making the best wine they can from their little spot on the map. From planting the vines, picking the grapes to selecting barrels from different coopers and countries with varying degrees of toast, every decision is constantly in flux from vintage to vintage with the aim of producing world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

While I referenced Burgundy earlier it would be a bit of an misnomer to say they are making wines in a Burgundian style. The similarity is not so much the style as it is the intent. That is to get the best out of what nature gives them in Carneros within their vineyards. While they make a host of other varietals and several distinct Chardonnays and Pinot Noir's, the Estate designate version of each are at the heart of what they do. Everything else strikes me as working off of those two wines and helping to illustrate the wines that Bouchaine is making.

At some point I lost track of the number and variety of barrel samples we tasted through. In some cases, the samples were different clones, in others the same varietal and clone in varying barrel types. What this exercise illustrated is the machinations and live experimentation they go through on a continual basis to not only improve the wine and make the best wine from a particular vintage, but also to ultimately learn more about the place they are making wine and what sort of fruit it yields.

Their Estate Chardonnay, was amongst 2 or 3 that stood out among the sea of them I tasted on my recent trip to Napa & Sonoma. Quite frankly it's right in my sweet spot for Chardonnay. It features excellent fruit, restrained used of oak, plenty of complexity in the form of spices and mineral notes as well as a long lingering finish. It was lovely on its own, but it'll go well with a wide array of lighter foods. The Estate Pinot Noir was also impressive and true to what this varietal can be when made in a pure style without trying to turn it into something it's not.

Single vineyard efforts as well as wines made in small quantities in slightly different styles were a fascinating case study of the directions one can sculpt wine in. A limited production dry Rosé was amongst my favorites of the small lot offerings I was poured. In truth, each wine I tasted at Bouchaine was a quality offering that told parts of their story. The balance of their story was filled in by Mike, a gracious host who clearly loves what he does as well as showing it off.

The bottom line is that if you have the opportunity to visit Bouchaine Vineyards and taste wine by all means, do so. If you get the chance to speak to Mike while you're there and take a tour, better yet. But if for some reason you can't see the place, taste their wines. Whether it's the Estate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or one of the smaller production wines, drinking them will not only be enjoyable, but tell you a lot about their origin. If you enjoy pure and true expressions of these varietals, Bouchaine is a name to look out for.

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