Once upon a time, Napa and Sonoma were places where, say, a college professor turned back-to-the-lander could load up his car, move to California, and not only make wine but maybe even buy some vineyard land of his own. These days, such a trajectory is reserved solely for the independently wealthy—everyone else who wishes to bottle something with their name on it is purchasing fruit from growers; leasing space in a communal winemaking facility; and, usually, working another full-time job to pay the bills because the wine venture is a long way from profitability.
Laura Brennan Bissell, maker of today’s elegant, classically styled California red blend, is one such young hustler whose experience as a sommelier informs her INCONNU wines. Hers is a venture focused on value, sustainability, and authenticity, and the “in crowd” restaurants and wine bars of Northern California have taken notice. Before they get it all (just 75 cases were made of this 2014 “Kitsune” Cabernet/Merlot blend), take advantage of today’s offer; it is a very rare occasion indeed when such a hand-crafted, single-vineyard, prestige appellation Californian wine is available at this price. It is an exceptional deal for both cellar collectors and pull-the-cork-tonight drinkers, a wine hinting at both Bordeaux and “golden era” Napa in its styling. Just 34 years old, Laura is poised to be a California wine star for many years to come; you’ll be able to say you “knew her when,” but more importantly, you’ll get to enjoy some exceptional wines along the way.
It’s important to place this wine, at this price, in broader context. “Consolidation” has recently become a curse word for many of my favorite smaller-scale wine labels in Napa and Sonoma. As a thriving economy continues to drive record demand and prices for Napa/Sonoma fruit, large multi-brand conglomerates are amassing larger holdings of the region’s already high-priced vineyard land. In basic terms, this means fewer owners hold more vineyard acreage, making it increasingly (and often prohibitively) expensive for small, independent producers to bottle wines from vineyards in Napa or Sonoma AVAs. As a result, many “cottage" producers are looking to less-glamorous grape varieties and/or less-prestigious growing regions. In the medium and long term, especially after this year’s devastating wildfires, this means we’ll continue seeing more Mendocino and Contra Costa Carignane and Zinfandel. It also means that the days of paying $25-$30 per bottle for truly artisan-produced, single-vineyard Napa or Sonoma Merlot or Cabernet will likely be a thing of the past.
Which begs the question: How the heck did Laura Brennan manage to bottle such an impressive and perfectly chiseled expression of the Los Carneros terroir at this modest price? I reached out to her by email and the answer boils down to this: She rolled up her sleeves and did everything herself. Lacking the financial resources to compete for expensive, old-vine Cabernet and Merlot in the prestigious Los Carneros AVA, Laura approached the owner of one of her favorite vineyards in this southern Napa/Sonoma border appellation, overlooking the San Pablo Bay. She asked if she could hand-farm a few rows of the property herself in exchange for significantly lower grape pricing. Next, Laura avoided virtually all luxurious trappings of modern winemaking. Her 2014 “Kitsune” faithfully channels the spirit of classic, early 1970’s or 1980’s Napa/Sonoma reds because it is produced with the same simple and classic methods. All work was done by hand, and Laura’s most trusted laboratory devices were her own hands, nose, and palate—no mechanical sorting, no fancy glycol temperature control, no complex filtration and no input from consulting oenologists. This is truly a one-woman wine.
From the moment you pull the cork of the 2014 INCONNU “Kitsune,” it is obvious that she has bottled an elegant, refined red that pays dual tribute to classic Bordeaux/California blends. Dark, concentrated garnet fills the glass, with a subtle translucence from a few years in bottle. Plum, black currant, cedar, and cigar box aromas lead the charge into a dense, satisfying mid-palate and concluding with a resounding dark fruit/baking spice finish. This wine provides undeniable pleasure (and value!) when poured right out of the bottle and into a large Bordeaux stem at 60 degrees. Still, I want to emphasize that your patience will be rewarded three-fold: First, this wine absolutely sings on days two and three (I opened two bottles at the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday and they improved and evolved for multiple days until they were emptied). This is a great way to explore every corner of any new wine, but it’s also compelling proof that this 2014 Kitsune is built for the long haul in your cellar. If you can summon the discipline, I’m confident it will blossom into an even more complex and aromatic wine over the next 10 years. Finally, I want to stress that truly hand-crafted Sonoma/Napa reds of this caliber—and particularly from a rising superstar like Laura Brennan—simply won’t exist in the $25-35 price point for much longer. I’m setting aside a case of today’s wine and fellow collectors would be wise to do the same. It will shine alongside simple and elaborate meals alike—I went simple with the attached marinated skirt steak recipe. Cheers!
Los Carneros, Sonoma County
Merlot 75%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%