Mark Aselstine
 
August 26, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Canihan Family Wine Cellars

Canihan Family Vineyards Welcome SignIn my continued efforts to introduce our readers to wineries which took part in the recent Family Winemakers tasting at Ft Mason, I present Canihan Family Wine Cellars.

The Canihan wine story is an interesting one, which dates well back to the early 20th century in pre WWI Europe.  August Siegrist came to America (and San Francisco specifically) from Switzerland where he had seen his mother work with vines and their resulting wine, as well as the locally driven Swiss food culture.  Luckily for August San Francisco has long been home to something similar and he found a home in the city as a baker and eventually as a restaurateur.

For many families the story might stop there, or someone working at a social media startup might tell his friends that his dad used to want to make wine, instead the dream continued through the work of Siegrist’s son in law, Bill Canihan Sr.

Canihan Sr purchased a 60 acre piece in Sonoma and farmed it organically for over 20 years before planting vines, the idea was to give the earth enough time to make the ground suitable for grapes again.  Given some of the issues I’ve had with my own backyard garden after the previous residents of our home let it basically go to it’s wild roots, I have a better appreciation for this type of patience than I might have only a year ago.

Finally, 1998 saw the plantings of the biodynamic and organic Canihan Family Vineyard.

More recently, I’ve run into a few quotes and some information on Bill Canihan which makes him seem like someone who is going to end up being an asset to the Sonoma wine industry.  First, we was a commercial mortgage banker in San Francisco for some time.  While it isn’t often talked about outside the wine industry, more and more winemakers that I talk to regularly have spoken about the need for financing and how difficult that financing is to receive after the economic collapse.  I’m seeing truly memorable wines being made using kickstarter campaigns and having more and more wineries simply struggling to have any type of financing in place.  While I understand from a banker’s perspective that wine doesn’t always seem like a good bet, I do think it is a good bet that some of these estate’s turn a tidy profit on a yearly basis, don’t you think?

Canihan helped to explain the situation faced by a small vineyard in an interview with Sonoma News:

"In 2008," Canihan reveals, "vineyard management alone cost us $30 a bottle. The lowest we've done is $19 a bottle. That's just vineyard management costs. It doesn't include bottles, labels or foil."

To put that price point in perspective, most average consumers won’t pay more than $30 for a bottle of Pinot Noir, no matter who makes it and no matter where it comes from.  It should help to explain the difficulty that high end wine estate’s like Canihan face when trying to enter into a market dominated by larger scale operations, capable of producing drinkable, but certainly not memorable $10 Pinot Noir from generic California vineyards.

Canihan Family Vineyards Pinot NoirOk, so Canihan is likely to be a resource for other growers, vintners, winemakers and vineyard owners in regard to both financing new projects, as well as turning those projects profitable.  There’s certainly more though. 

We hear consistently, ad nauseum really about how great wine is made in the vineyard.  We often hear wineries and winemakers talk at length about how their vineyard is affected by small changes in location compared to their neighbors as well as any number of other important points about their location and how that affects the grapes that end up in your glass.  What I don’t often see are all of these wineries completely willing to buy into the concept and farm their land both organically as well as biodynamically.

One aspect of conventional farming that I think many of us can appreciate after spending any amount of time trying to grow food in our backyard is that after you use fertilizer or some other type of intervention, it seemingly becomes more important to use others.  In essence there is a constant and uphill fight between fertilizer makers, or simply put the chemical industry and pests or nature itself.  Frankly, I don’t believe it is a fight that we can win forever, which is why we’re seeing regular farms employ crop rotation among other more natural ways of helping the soil retain vital nutrients like nitrogen.

In any case, before I get going too far along a philosophical journey here about organic and biodynamic farming helping to preserve these outstanding vineyards for future generations, I should talk a bit about Canihan’s wine since that’s truly why everyone is here.

Here’s the first thing you’re going to notice when you open either a Pinot Noir or Syrah from the Canihan Family Vineyard: Spice.  Like a lot of spice on the nose.  Really, a lot and some of the most interesting and complex set of flavors you’ll ever smell from either of those two varietals.  This is where I think you see the meticulous farming practices truly coming into play, while so many people talk about how Pinot and Syrah both can have spicy notes on the nose, we lose those sensations with too many wines.  They’re present here in abundance and if you drink a lot of Pinot Noir, you’ll realize that you’ve been missing something along the way.

In the mouth the spice, interestingly, fades more into the background and I’m left with a simple yet straightforward assessment.  This is a rounder version of Pinot Noir, consistent with what you’d expect from a warm California vineyard.  That being said, while it isn’t austere, it doesn’t reach a level of feeling over extracted either.  This is a true Pinot Noir producer and when it comes to their Exuberance Pinot Noir-a true reminder of what Sonoma County is capable of when treated with enough care.

Pinot NoirIt’s also a winery you’re likely to hear about more in the future, this type of care and concern for a vineyard doesn’t allow for giant leaps in production or the sourcing of inferior product for greater profit.  In short Canihan Family Vineyards is likely just beginning its journey to being a Sonoma Pinot producer that we can count on to produce a world class wine in every vintage.

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