Wine, Falcons and Ted Lasso — How a Napa Winery Adapted With Real Zeal and Made It All Come Together

We're Talking Grapes With Chris Kajani

BY // 05.04.21

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and soil types, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot.

In Wine Talk, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who farm and make wine. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

I was already planning to visit Bouchaine Vineyards this year (as soon as possible) when I heard about the falcons.

It was during a recent Zoom tasting with Chris Kajani, the estate’s winemaker and general manager, and the images of the raptors — I am a hopeless and indefatigable admirer of birds — transported me. I’ll be at Bouchaine earlier than I thought I would be (I hope).

We tasted some delicious chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier with Kajani that day, who was stationed in Bouchaine’s well-appointed kitchen. I was impressed with the wines and Kajani’s stories of her father’s wine collection, as well as the way she and rest of the Bouchaine team responded to the demands and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This kitchen is usually full of activity.

Bouchine took the now-universal Zoom tastings to new heights, and featured chefs and cooking classes and dining, as well as live music and falconry demonstrations, all paired with Bouchaine wines, of course. (These programs continue today, and have proved popular with individuals, groups, and corporations.)

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A Bouchaine initiative I find especially appealing is called B-Together, a collection of recipes and videos featuring chefs including Martin Slavin, Scott Warner and Joey Altman (along with tours of the estate’s vineyards and some musical performances). You’ll find recipes for, among other dishes, Mongolian lamb, Serbian sun bread, Dan Dan noodles and Shangai-style pork belly sliders.

And those falcons. In addition to scaring away pesky birds, the raptors, overseen by Kate Marden, owner of West Coast Falconry, star in demonstrations that visitors to the estate can experience.

“Falconry helps us maintain our commitment to sustainable farming, but it’s also just an amazing thing to witness,“ Kajani says.

Kajani has a background in biotech, the field in which her career began, but journeys to Europe worked their way on her already strong passion for wine — which had been kindled and nurtured by her Napa upbringing — and she enrolled at UC Davis and earned a master’s degree in viticulture and enology.

She began working at Saintsbury in 2006 as associate winemaker, and in 2013 became the winemaker there. In 2015, she moved to Bouchaine, accepting the position that she holds today.

This Carneros AVA estate was founded in 1981 by Tatiana and Gerret Copeland.

Bouchaine is one of the oldest continuously operating family-run properties in the Carneros AVA. Of the estate’s 87 planted acres, 46 are dedicated to pinot noir and 31 to chardonnay. The remaining 10 acres grow riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot meunier and syrah.

Let’s talk to Kajani, and hear what she has to say about, among other things, sneaking a bottle of riesling into a movie theater.

James Brock: How has COVID-19 changed your work and life?

Chris Kajani: Professionally, it was incredibly lonely. No guests at the winery, no travel to enjoy winemaker dinners with fans or at events, and a constant anxiety over the health of our team, our families, our community and our industry. Personally, I was strengthened by family and community bonds. I drew, and continue to draw, a deep satisfaction from working with a team that is world class in the wine business.

Our team pivoted with grace and seized a moment to cultivate a robust virtual tasting program that has propelled our business forward. Bouchaine was one of the first wineries to introduce virtual tastings that offer guests a variety of different experiences, from a tasting of pinot noir blends versus single clones, to wine and chocolate or cheese pairings, and even virtual falconry demonstrations. Upcoming — wine and bourbon tastings, and also pairing Bouchaine wines with music selections from the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Because of our team’s hard work we are hosting corporate and group virtual tastings multiple times a day, which has allowed Bouchaine to thrive throughout a challenging time.

JB: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one?

CK: 2020 Bouchaine Vin Gris of Pinot Noir ($29): Just released and bursting with guava, watermelon and nectarine flavors. The bright acidity and tangy mouthfeel work with a multitude of dishes but sings with anything off the grill (scallops, chicken, salmon). It can be purchased on our website.

2018 Bouchaine Pommard Clone Pinot Noir, Estate Selection ($65): All blue fruit (plum, blueberry) with hints of mocha and cigar tobacco. The Pommard clone showcases a lush creamier palate, a huge crowd-pleaser. Try with lamb chops, or cocoa/espresso-rubbed hangar steak.

The 2013 Domaine Carneros Le Reve Blanc de Blancs ($120): A favorite of Team Bouchaine. Their winemaker, Zak Miller, was one of my interns when I was making wine at Saintsbury, and he is gifted in the magic of crafting sparkling wine. We love the nutty character, texture, and play on beautiful fruit layers and ginger spice.

This one is worthy of cellaring until 2035, at least.

JB: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why.

CK: I need a bottle of the 170-year-old Champagne that was discovered in the shipwreck off the coast of Finland in 2015. As a Champagne junkie, that would be the ultimate wine experience.

JB: What is your favorite grape variety, and why?

CK: Pinot noir is my first love; I like the yin/yang of its character. It’s a shapeshifter — so intoxicating, yet fickle. Pinot noir showcases layers of depth and intrigue, but it’s also thin-skinned. It grows more succulent over time and also has a legitimate reputation for being difficult. There is no shortage of personality in great pinot noir.

Chris Kajani at work on the Bouchaine estate. (Photo by Bob McClenehan)

JB: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day? 

CK: Pick a cooler vintage full of tension, texture and bright acidity. The 2008, 2009 and 2010 pinot noirs from Carneros are gorgeous right now. For more current releases, try the 2018 Bouchaine Swan Clone Pinot Noir, Estate Selection, which is bright and graceful, but with an underlying current of strength and ageability.

JB: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle (outside of your home and workplace)?

CK: I love the Carneros Resort and Spa and spend as much time as I can on the lovely patio outside of FARM restaurant. FARM has an amazing wine list (thanks to the über talented Zion Curiel) and delectable food (Chef Aaron Meneghelli rocks) I am also devoted to Bistro Don Giovanni (Chef Scott Warner’s pastas and salmon.).

Bouchaine Vineyards, where the views are things of beauty.

JB: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

CK: Drink what you like. Then find a local wine shop and link up with someone who can recommend wines based on what you enjoy. This opens up another exciting dimension of wine when you can taste what is happening across the wine world.

And travel. Visiting wine regions brings not only the wine, but the culture, people, and history into your muscle memory when you open those bottles. Every bottle of wine tells a story. The more you know about where it comes from or who made it, the greater the enjoyment.

JB: What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

CK: My dad’s wine cellar, circa 1990. Napa Valley showing off beautiful wines from the 1970s and 1980s.

JB: What has been the strangest moment or incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

CK: We snuck a bottle of riesling into a movie once and during one of those quiet emotional scenes we knocked it over — with the entire theater listening to it roll down many rows (screw top, thankfully). The people that caught it handed it back to us and the entire theater cheered.

Unoaked and ready for a new season in the EPL.

JB: Your favorite wine reference in a work of literature?

CK: “In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.”

― Napoleon Bonaparte

Or when our 2018 Bouchaine Unoaked Estate Chardonnay was compared to Ted Lasso by R.H. Drexel – I fell on the floor laughing.  So perfect.

For more wine, travel and other stories from James Brock, check out Mise en Place.

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