The golden sunrise revealed thick fog rolling slowly over Mount Tamalpais as Chris Kajani stood on the terrace of his vineyard and saw this “miraculous” sight. The winery she runs, Bouchaine, is tucked away off the beaten path in the Napa Valley in the cooler climate area of Carneros. The remarkable difference between Carneros and other parts of Napa, such as St. Helena, who is barely 40 minutes drive north, will sometimes include days that had over 20 degree difference. When the fog begins to cascade on her mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards, the moisture that enveloped the leaves and grapes leaves in its wake, yet moisture quickly evaporates in the accompanying wind. The fog is part of the energetic current that begins in the Gulf of San Francisco, is further driven by the Gulf of San Pablo and the Napa River to find itself among Bouchaine vines that completely change the sense of place relative to its non-Carneros Napa neighbors. Still to this day, it is still an experience that goes beyond her wildest dreams when she first considered leaving the biotechnology world for a life dedicated to making California wine.
A major career shift does not always work as one thinks; the images that show up in one’s head while fantasizing about a dream job do not always turn into anything. But for Chris Kajani, the landscape that surrounds her job as a winemaker and daily manager in Bouchaine constantly gives chills in her back with the little miracles she witnesses throughout the growing season. The combination of the consistency of the mists in balance with the irregular climatic eruptions, such as hailstorms, gives her a life filled with reliable wonder and electrically charged challenges that require swift action; a life that is at once enchanting and exciting.
Takes the leap
Although Chris is a proud native of the Napa Valley who grew up with a father who loves to collect Napa wines, and that she gets the opportunity to travel to Europe and experience the wines there, she never knew that one could make a living from wine . So she worked in biotech for years, until she met a winemaker named Ed Kurtzman who has an impressive resume working with the best Pinot Noir winemakers in all of California. But besides his great resume, he is also an incredibly hard worker when he drove a taxi in San Francisco while getting his degree in winemaking in Fresno, and despite the fact that Chris was not born into a winemaking family, Ed was a great example of a , who came from a humble background and through relentless hard work became a well-known figure in the industry. “Ed talked me into this,” Chris explained, and she said he let her do a part-time harvest at Testarossa, a producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the central coast, so she could see for herself if vineyard life was something for her.
Chris was bitten hard by the wine bug when, after her Testarossa experience, she was fiercely determined to get into one of the most prestigious winemaking universities in the country, UC Davis. Chris already had a degree in science as well as a letter of recommendation from Ed Kurtzman, so she knew the next step was to let the Davis Admissions Committee for Viticulture and Enology graduate know how committed she was to participating in their program. “I literally chased them and revised all the classes when I really wanted to get in the first time,” Chris said with a laugh.
She ended up practicing at Pahlmeyer, which made wine from Napa and Sonoma vineyards planted with Bordeaux varieties as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Chris said the wines that blew her the most were always the Pinot Noir wines when they were “light, bright, and graceful.” Then she joined Saintsbury in 2006, giving her a chance to work with various vineyards throughout the Anderson Valley, the Sonoma Coast, and throughout the Carneros. She happily stayed there for nearly nine years, until a flashing light from the Bouchaine owners called her in. And before Chris knew it, she had a six-hour conversation at their home in Delaware with the owners, Gerret and Tatiana Copeland, and at one point Mrs. Copeland looked at her and said, “Chris, you’ve already made wine and you could do it forever, but what if you could run the vineyard? What if you did it all?” It was like being struck by lightning, and even though she had never imagined to be the day-to-day manager of a winery, Mrs. Copela got nd the vision to come alive for her in that moment.
A great passion that Chris and Copelands shared was rooted in Pinot Noir and the importance of the site. Gerret and Tatiana Copeland have both had a long-standing passion for Burgundy Pinot Noir wines; Gerret’s French-descended American family built the DuPont Company (his father, Lammot du Pont Copeland, was DuPont’s 11th president) but more importantly in this context, his father and mother loved French wine. Gerret fell in love with wine from Burgundy during his first trip there with his father when he was only 16 years old. Tatiana came from a great legacy of artistic and independent-thinking Russians, as her great uncle was the legendary composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and her grandmother was the first woman to drive a car through Moscow’s Red Square. Tatiana ended up coming to California for a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and with the help of a successful business career, she would meet her future husband Gerret Copeland, and together they would try to make their wind dream come true. In the 1980s, it was impossible to buy in Burgundy, so Tatiana sought out a property they could buy in California, which led her to what would become the Bouchaine property.
The estate was not much to look at in 1981 as it had a few dilapidated buildings, but the feeling of lying in a hidden natural wonderland won Tatiana instantly, although the question of whether it could produce high quality wine did not answered when Carnero’s area of Napa was not the familiar name as it is today. But her friend, André Tchelistcheff, who happened to share his Russian heritage as well as being America’s most influential winemaker after the ban, came out with her, and when he saw the land and the fog, he said it was the ideal place for Pinot Noir. .. and at that moment it was meant to be as it was their dream wine to make.
To share the miracle
“Before I started with wine, I could not tell you what the weather was like,” Chris said with an introverted look on her face. But since her first full-time harvest in 2004, she can remember all aspects of the growing season, and the recall of it is as vivid and emotionally alive as if she were reliving it in real time. Today, she is completely engaged and connected to the symbiotic conditions that pulsate among the nature that surrounds her, and she had the same passionate wave of emotions that Tatiana had the first time they each experienced the Bouchaine estate – part of the wine magic is the experience of the place. Of course, the challenges of the Covid pandemic have made it difficult to share this particular property, but Chris says she can always count on the Copelands supporting them in any of the fun ideas they come up with, and the more out of the box it is the better so that they were able to adapt quite quickly; whether it is making special bottlings of wine, planting a small portion of an atypical variety for the area or in the event of a pandemic, investing in all the equipment to make online tastings with their customers, Copelands is always there to give them what they have need.
In these difficult times, everyone should know that there is still plenty of magic to be gained in life, and many have experienced how easy it is to get lost in the dark when the magic seems to have completely disappeared. Chris himself, who feels that giving visitors this incredible experience is the best part of the job desperately missed hosting real live people when things were locked up. But as life is slowly returning to normal, the moments of getting people out come mean a lot more and reinforce the notion that she has walked a path that brings beauty, coziness and much-needed escape to people’s lives. And it all started with a random conversation with a Pinot Noir winemaker who introduced her to a world she did not even know existed, and then it was just up to her to fully commit to taking that leap … a leap she could never have imagined would ultimately help keep the magic alive for herself as she still witnessed the copper-colored mist rolling in, even in the darkest times.
2020 Bouchaine, Vin Gris from Pinot Noir, Carneros, Napa Valley: 100% Pinot Noir grapes, where 95% is whole cluster pressed and 5% is saignée. Purple flowers with wild strawberries on the nose and lots of energy, high acidity with a touch of texture that gives it shape with stony minerality on finish. 720 cases made.
2018 Bouchaine, Estate Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley: 100% Chardonnay. Carneros is famous for its cool climate Chardonnay as well as its cool Pinot Noir climate. Juicy peach with nectarine skin that had a touch of marzipan that was ideally balanced with refreshing acid; such a good Chardonnay to pair with food. 3,500 cases filed.
2018 Bouchaine, Pinot Noir Estate, Carneros, Napa Valley: 100% Pinot Noir. Multilayered nose with smoldering soil and black cherries mixed with cardamom pods and forest floor, which has light acidity and round tannins. 3,100 cases filed.
2018 Bouchaine ‘Swan Clone’ Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros, Napa Valley: 100% Pinot Noir from Swan Clone. A stunningly beautiful, perfumed nose that was supple and light on the body like a ballet dancer and therefore why this particular clone of Pinot Noir is called the Swan; really elegant but still nicely concentrated on the middle of the palate with ripe strawberries that had a refreshing basil note in the background. 500 cases submitted.