The Smoke has Cleared....

Mark and I were in Napa last week at the annual partners’ meeting for the winery.  It was our first trip to California since the damaging October wildfires.  While there are still countless signs of the tragedies that occurred, we were happy to see the Napa community rebuilding and taking care of one another.  

Mark and I always enjoy spending time in California, but the Annual Partners’ Meeting is special.  It’s the once-a-year opportunity for all of us, partners and staff, to get together, discuss wine, share insights, and re-affirm that the magic of wine really comes from the people who make it!  

While the business of winemaking is at the top of the agenda when it comes to the annual meeting, the winery also hosts our annual Barrel Break party.  Barrel Break is our first opportunity to taste our wines after the fruit has been pressed and the juice has been fermented and transferred into barrels.  Mark and I always meet the Barrel Break with a lot of anticipation and sometimes a little anxiety.  This year, our anxiousness over the 2017 harvest was due to the unknown effects of the wildfires.  

Kagan Cellars was lucky in that all of our fruit for 2017 was harvested before the fires hit the Napa Valley.  However, smoke taint can effect fruit on the vine or juice in the winery.  The fires hit right in the middle of harvest, obviously, the busiest time of year at a winery.  Once fruit arrives at the winery, it has to be cooled and crushed as soon as possible.  Once the grapes are crushed, fermentation begins.  Fermentation is a natural process and nothing stops Mother Nature, so winemakers have to control fermentation, even if the winery is filled with smoke.  Barrels are porous vessels…air enters and liquid evaporates throughout the entire aging process, so there were certainly ways that our wines could have been adversely impacted by smoke. Needless to say, we were concerned.  The weather in 2017 assured us that we are going to have an excellent vintage and it would have been hard to witness the vintage being damaged by the fires.

We’re making three varietals from the 2017 harvest.  We tasted each wine at Barrel Break and below are our impressions of each wine after fermentation and approximately 5 months in barrel:

2017 Kagan Chardonnay, Courtney’s Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills
This chardonnay is shaping up nicely.  It is lower in acid, with tropical fruit flavors.  It’s nice and mellow with a full mouthfeel, so if you enjoyed our 2011 Chardonnay, you will love this!   

2017 Kagan Pinot Noir, Linsday’s Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills
The Pinot Noir has lovely red-fruit flavors of raspberry and strawberry with notes of white pepper and fresh hay.  Our 2013 Kagan Pinot Noir was very Burgundian in style and it hails from Lindsay’s Vineyard, so it looks like the 2017 vintage will lend itself nicely to our “new world fruit – old world style”.

2017 Kagan Cabernet Sauvignon, Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley
This was the wine we were perhaps the most concerned about because of the long hang-time during the growing season.  It was possible that our cab fruit was exposed to the smoke from fires surrounding the area before the fires arrived in Napa Valley.  Our Cabernet was harvested in the early morning of October 8 and the wildfires hit Napa Valley that afternoon.  After tasting the barrel sample, however, it seems we dodged a bullet.  Our 2017 Cabernet is showing beautiful black fruit flavors and allspice notes.  It’s not too earthy, but it has great tannic structure.  We’ll probably age the wine for 20 more months, so it’s still very early, but we are confident that this will be an excellent vintage!    

So, in short…No Smoke!  With this revelation behind us, we spent the rest of the evening drinking wine and dancing under the winery’s disco-ball!   

We have no idea why we were so fortunate under such tragic circumstances as the California wildfires, but perhaps, Bacchus protected our harvest…maybe he’s a Kagan Cellars fan!        

Mark Ellenberger