Interview with President and Winemaker Chris Kajani.
Bouchaine Vineyards is a jewel of Carneros AVA, with its roots stretching back to the 1880s when settler Quincy Boonfly first planted vines on what would become family-owned property.
Johnny Garetto, a Italian winemaker, had the foresight to purchase vineyards in 1927 and for 34 years he cultivated this land until 1961 when Beringer acquired it – proving such land would become an invaluable asset for generations to come!
Located in the stunning Napa Valley, Bouchaine Winery was officially established by Tatiana and Gerret Copeland after changing hands one last time in 1981. Since then, it has been crafting exquisite wines that capture all of the beauty its surroundings have to offer.
President and Winemaker Chris Kajani joined the team in 2015 and under her leadership, together with the Copelands, Bouchaine has become one of the region’s leading producers of sustainably farmed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Kajani and her team set their sights on the future, striving to improve vineyard plantings with boundless imagination and enthusiasm. They have upgraded both the cellar and hospitality center that includes an impressive demonstration kitchen.
The 100-acre Napa Green and Fish-Friendly certified estate vineyard are typified by Carneros winds that sweep across the hills and fog that rolls in off the Bay and lingers until late morning. This cool climate is perfect not just for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also the less common, exciting varieties Bouchaine bottles, including Pinot Meunier, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
We interview Bouchaine Vineyards President and Winemaker Chris Kajani to learn more.
Share a popular tasting experience?
Bouchaine Vineyards President and Winemaker Chris Kajani: Bouchaine is known for its varied and unique tasting experiences. From Falconry in the Garden, where you have an up close and personal experience with a falcon, followed by a curated tasting of Bouchaine wines, to Wine and Cheese – The Perfect Match, where a certified cheese expert helps you learn the art of wine and cheese pairing.
Our newest experience is the Vine to Vessel tasting. Guests are invited into the Bouchaine cellar, where they will taste wines from various vessels to learn how everything from concrete eggs to acacia barrels to clay amphora affects the flavor of a wine.
All of our experiences are created to bring guests behind the veil and educate them about winemaking and vineyard processes while also having fun.
What type of wine do you specialize in?
Chris Kajani: Bouchaine Vineyards is located in Carneros, the ideal place in Napa Valley to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We produce Chardonnay’s that run the gamut of styles, from our full-bodied Reserve Chardonnay to our crisp and floral Unoaked Chardonnay.
We consider ourselves real Pinot geeks and have many clones of Pinot Noir growing in the vineyard. With each vintage, we create single clone bottlings to explore their different characteristics of these.
Our cool climate also allows Bouchaine to produce some of Napa’s rarest varieties, including Pinot Meunier, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer.
What makes your wine unique?
Chris Kajani: We believe that great wines are made in the vineyard and that means we are very low intervention in the cellar and very high-touch and detail-oriented throughout the growing season. Each harvest, I work with the same vineyard crew. I have invested time into each of the people on my team, and they return year after year.
Seeing the same faces each season means they know the vines, understand what they need, and are invested in our product. Bouchaine wines are also estate grown and bottled, which allows a distinct level of attention to detail and finesse in the winemaking process; these grapes never even touch the highway and are grown within walking distance from where they are pressed and vinified.
We hope the vines speak for themselves and truly reflect Carneros.
How did you get started in the wine industry?
Chris Kajani: As a native of Napa, I was inspired by my community and wine’s power to bring people together. At the age of 16, I was the designated driver for my family, trekking up and down the valley where the seeds for my future career were sewn. I studied Biological Science at UC Davis and began working for biotech giants in the Bay Area.
A chance encounter at a dinner party with renowned winemaker and “pinot geek” Ed Kurtzman showed me I could enjoy wine and make a career of it. Bitten by the winemaking bug, I headed back to UC Davis, where I studied Winemaking and Oenology.
I worked at Pahlmeyer for two years, then joined the team at Saintsbury, where I made Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for nine years before coming to Bouchaine.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process?
Chris Kajani: There are thousands of ways to make wine, and when you come to a new vineyard, your relationship with it may be fresh, but the site has many years of history to consider. You have your own winemaking experience, but you don’t know which parts of your vineyards have various environmental pressures, from drought to flood to pests.
All you can do is keep a sharp eye on the growing season and taste the wines you made from that vintage. I’ve learned to do the research, allow myself the flexibility to do something new, and explore the best methods for the situations I’m presented with. This applies to farming, but it also applies to business and any new situation life may present you with.
Describe your winemaking approach.
Chris Kajani: We want this site to sing when it comes to our wines. Wild yeast fermentation, minimal extraction and non-intervention winemaking practices all maintain our ethos that great wines are grown, not made. Our driving belief at Bouchaine is that every harvest, every barrel, and every bottle is a unique opportunity to create wines of extraordinary character and quality.
To achieve this goal, we work hard to stay current on the latest developments and technologies while staying true to the time-honored techniques that ensure the preservation of the region’s character and the fruit.
Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery?
Chris Kajani: Building our new hospitality center was a massive undertaking, from gaining planning commission approval to the actual construction. Working with our owners, the Copelands, bringing their vision to reality, and finally opening this gorgeous building in 2019 was an exciting and rewarding team experience.
What do you love about winemaking?
Chris Kajani: I love that there is always something new to discover, from viticultural techniques to water management to sustainability innovations. Wine is one of the world’s oldest industries, yet it is constantly changing.
We are always experimenting with Bouchaine and discovering new ways to make the best wine possible. I love the hard work of winemaking. Hiking the vineyard, working with our viticultural team, and really getting to know this piece of land.
Do you have any winery traditions with your team?
Chris Kajani: Harvest lunch is a sacred tradition at Bouchaine. We work long hours so taking an hour out to sit down and eat a meal together is important. We rotate who gets to choose the venue we order from, so it’s a fun surprise each day to see what’s for lunch and an excellent way to connect and have fun during a chaotic and busy time of year.
How does your team help you as a winemaker?
Chris Kajani: I work with a fabulous and dedicated team of people, from the harvest interns to the all-female vineyard team, my assistant winemaker and everyone on the sales side. We have created a work culture where diligence and the pursuit of excellent wine are expected but where we also carve out space to enjoy ourselves and have fun.
I could only work at the level that I do with the help of everyone on my team. We brainstorm new vineyard experiences together and discuss which clones should be planted and what new green initiatives we should work towards.