Bouchaine Vineyards is the oldest continually operating winery in the Carneros District and one of the southernmost wineries in the Napa Valley. Vines were first planted in the late 1890’s on the property and the winery has since changed ownership several times including being owned by Beringer at one point.
The winery construction was initially started in 1928 which was a rather gutsy move at the time, considering this was still in the midst of prohibition. The winery wasn’t actually finished until 1933 which was the last year of prohibition (this was the first winery to receive a bond in the Napa Valley post prohibition). Today the tasting room and original winery buildings remain – having been significantly remodeled since the original construction. Simply glance at the photos hanging on the side wall next to the tasting counter to see how far this property has come since it’s very rustic look in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Note the very distinctive brown siding on the buildings – these were hand cut from huge old redwood fermentation tanks that were originally used in the winery. What a great way to make use of these old tanks!
The winery was originally sold by Beringer to the current owners, Gerret & Tatiana Copeland and partners and became Bouchaine Winery in 1980. There are two lines of thought in regards to the name of the winery. The first was well thought out; Bouchaine has a couple of meanings in French, however in this case it is French for the name of the person that puts corks into wines after they are bottled; the second connotation was a bit more rushed! After the sale of the winery in 1981, Gerret & Tatiana took a trip out of town and their lawyer needed to come up with a name quickly and was looking for something French, so he chose his wife’s maiden name of Bouchaine.
Their total acreage on the estate is about 104 acres planted mostly to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They do source some of their fruit from the Sonoma Coast and the more northerly Anderson Valley. Their estate is among the southern most vineyards in the Carneros, putting them very close to the moderating effects of the Bay. In addition they are among the highest vineyards in the Carneros – in a region that for the most part is fairly close to sea level.
Need a break from the up valley big bold Cabernet Sauvignons? Being a Carneros based winery, two of their most produced wines are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and they do an excellent job on both of these varietals. As Bouchaine says, “Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of wines, but Pinot Noir is the wine of kings.” Nice! They make two of their estate Chardonnays in different styles, so you can get a real feel for how the actual winemaking style can affect the flavor and aroma – one see’s no oak during fermentation with no malolactic fermentation and the is aged in oak and undergoes partial ML.
A number of their limited production wines are only available at the winery and through their wine club. A couple of these we thoroughly enjoyed were the Mariafeld Pinot Noir (you won’t even see this listed on their website), their Estate Pinot and the Pinot Meunier (a cousin of Pinot Noir). We’ve come across this varietal maybe 3 or 4 times in Napa as it is not commonly produced as a still wine (more often it is used in sparkling wine production).
The 2012 vintage has a classic Pinot bouquet (both the bouquet and the palate have many similarities to other Pinot noirs from this part of Napa). The bouquet shows hints of cocoa powder and raspberry. The core of the palate is red fruit – red currant and cranberry and spice notes. It is a lighter wine with bright fruit and good acidity. We have tried several vintages of this particular varietal from Bouchaine and each one is an elegant wine.
Also try the Pinot Gris (in our experience there is very little of this varietal planted in the Napa Valley). The 2007 vintage has a nice gold color with a somewhat gravelly very fruit forward nose with some citrus notes on the palate. This wine pairs very well with shellfish.
The Terraces Pinot Noir (2012) was harvested from the tops of the two highest hills on the property. It is dark in the glass for a Pinot Noir. The nose shows an earthiness along with a mushroom nuance. As the wine breathes both of these characteristics dissipate somewhat to the background revealing red fruit aromas. The palate is superbly balanced showing a sweetness of fruit initially. This wine has decent structure with fairly fine-grained tannins that last for some time on the finish.
If you like dessert wine they make a very pretty Bource d’Or (translates to Taste of Gold) from Chardonnay grapes. We sampled their 2007 vintage; it is decidedly amber in color, and strikes a nice balance between the flavors of honey and sugar. With a residual sugar of 19%, yes this wine is very sweet, but it is not so high in alcohol – only 11%. It is always refreshing to find a dessert wine with lower alcohol. Stone fruit and minerality nuances are found in the bouquet, with lots of peach, and honey notes on the palate – however the finish doesn’t grip and never lets you go like some cloyingly sweet dessert wines, rather it is smooth and quite well balanced. Their current winemaker has over 30 years experience producing high quality Pinot Noir & Chardonnay. He was also the founder of nearby Acacia Winery.
What do you find in their wines? We find a sense of place, the rolling hills of southern Napa, the soaring hawks, the gentle Carneros breezes blowing off the San Pablo Bay, the drifting fog, the solitude of being among a sea of vines and the fine expression of that year’s story. We hear the sound of a private jet departing Napa County airport. We look up. We want to go somewhere. Exotic. And drink #bouchainewines
Think of the two C’s when discussing the best places for bike riding in Napa – Calistoga to the extreme north in the Valley and Carneros to the south. Bouchaine is one of the most bike friendly wineries in Napa; often bikers will stop by on there own or through with one of the many local bike tour companies. Bouchaine is certainly available for bike groups as there is a large lawn and tent setup (when weather permits) behind the tasting room as well as deck seating. Most Napa wineries who have built “long games” into their grounds build Bocce Ball courts – not so with Bouchaine. Rather, look for the fun horseshoe pit in the back!
The tasting room staff is very friendly and helpful. In 2008 the tasting room was totally remodeled and now shows wonderfully. In the mood for hiking? Bouchaine has set up a unique 7/10ths of a mile, self guided vineyard walk, highlighted by 14 different stops. Not a bad way to work up a thirst by any means and plus, it is an educational tour as well.
Be sure to pick up the “vineyard walk” brochure from their tasting room before you start. Several stops on the tour afford one very good views of the Carneros district, the Napa River and the San Pablo Bay. Biking, or want to have lunch here – ask about their Table for Two picnic basket service. Visit: www.bouchaine.com
NOTE: In the summer 2017 construction began on what will be a new 5,000 square foot hospitality center and tasting room experience. A commercial kitchen will be built here and Bouchaine will be able to offer tastings + pairings. A very tentative ETA of perhaps November 2018 on the completion of this hospitality center. We pop by from time to time to keep an eye on the construction and invariably as we do so we always bump back the completion date as listed above. We will update this review accordingly along with photography of the new hospitality center once it opens.
New Hospitality Center