Napa has a way of turning modest dreams into major productions. Lou Kapcsándy and his wife Bobbie decided to retire to Napa mostly out of nostalgia for the picnics and wine tasting they used to do as a young married couple living in Sausalito. Forty years after the first of these romantic escapes, their retirement dream included only a little cottage with at most an acre or so of vines, so Lou could putter in the garage and make a barrel or two of wine from his backyard fruit.
Three years after the family, including their son Louis, made the first tour of the small cottages for sale in the valley, the family was harvesting fifteen and a half acres of Cabernet and Merlot to make the first vintage of what will undoubtedly be one of Napa's top wines for the decades to come.
Perhaps Lou Kapcsándy's shrewd eye for a good piece of ground can be blamed for turning a simple retirement dream into an entirely new career and a family obsession. Born and raised in Hungary, a young, immigrant Kapcsándy (pronounced cap-CHAN-dee) trained as a chemical engineer, spent some time in the military, and also as a pro football player before getting to know some scientists at Boeing and joining them to develop an ultra-high-pressure waterjet cutting machine. His successes with Boeing led him into commercial general contracting, where he settled for the next 20 years. Nearly a billion dollars in annual revenue later, Kapcsándy knows how to size up a plot of land in more than one way.
Kapcsándy got serious about wine after he tasted the 1961 vintage of Bordeaux, which immediately sparked an obsession with the region that led to annual pilgrimages there for nearly 40 years. Kapcsándy has walked the vineyards of nearly every major chateau in the region, just as he now walks in his own vineyard every week.
All of which might explain why the Kapcsándy family happened upon a plot of land known as the State Lane vineyard, and promptly decided to get into the wine business in a serious way. Their vineyard, which retains its historical name based on its address at the corner of State Lane and Yountville Crossroads in Napa, was made famous by the Beringer Winery decades ago as the source for some of Beringer's most prized vineyard designated fruit. In 1999 vines on the property succumbed to the predations of Phylloxera. The vineyard was being prepared for redevelopment in anticipation of renewing its contract with Beringer when the family learned that the owner might be interested in selling. It represented an opportunity too good for the Kapcsándys to pass up.
Whenever someone takes over an historic vineyard in Napa, there's a period of time when those familiar with it hold their breath. Like a new family buying an old, majestic house on the block, you never know whether they're going to replace it with some modern monstrosity or refurbish it to the height of its glory.
By now, everyone in Yountville has breathed a sigh of relief. With the precision and aggressive timeline that no doubt characterized his work for decades before, Lou Kapcsándy ripped out all 15 acres of the beleaguered, Phylloxera infected rootstock and replanted the property in several blocks, each with rootstocks carefully matched to the several types of soil found on the property. In 9 short months, a brand new winery was also constructed, capable of shepherding the roughly 3000 cases the estate expects to produce safely from field to bottle.
The Kapcsándy Family Winery enlisted the help of Helen Turley and her husband John Wetlaufer to oversee the replanting of the vineyards and the first couple of vintages. Starting in 2005 the winemaking was transitioned to the team of Denis Malbec (cellar master of Chateau Latour) and Rob Lawson who spent 14 years as the head winemaker for the Napa Wine Company. Despite the caliber of their hired help, Kapcsándy Family Winery is run almost entirely by the family. Lou and his son Louis jointly make nearly every decision about all aspects of the winery's operations (a natural extension of the partnership they began in 1999 when they started a wine importing business together), and the plan is for Louis to eventually take over winemaking duties, after some time working with Malbec and Lawson, and some hardcore enology courses at U.C. Davis. During harvest Lou drives the forklift and Louis drives the grape truck.
Like many of Napa's top vineyards, the winegrowing and winemaking regimen at Kapcsándy is extremely rigorous -- from the dense precision spacing of the vines, to the strict yield reduction and canopy management, to the dogmatic insistence on harvesting the grapes only at phenolic maturity (a measurement of the presence and concentration of compounds like anthocyanins and tannins). Grapes are hand picked, block by block, in multiple passes through the vineyard, and are completely destemmed before being sorted, painstakingly, berry by berry into the fermentation tanks. During this sorting process, which involves dozens of people, up to 15% of the grapes are removed due to imperfections. Fermentations take place with minimal fuss or intervention. The wines are bottled completely unfined and unfiltered after aging in 100% new French and Hungarian oak for approximately 20 months.
"I have no interest in fruit bombs. No interest in huge, in-your-face wines that lack a mid-palate or structure," booms Lou when asked what he's trying to do with his wines. "I'm trying to make great wines, which to mean mean wines that are distinct, approachable in their youth, but fundamentally structured to age for a long time. We're not trying to imitate any specific wine, but we are inspired by the great vintages of Bordeaux, all of which -- '61, '64, '70, '75, '78, '82 -- were good when they were young."
The influence of Bordeaux is clear in Kapcsándy wines, even from first sight of the atypically broad shouldered bottle (made from a mold that the French sold to the Italians and which somehow made its way to Mexico) which reminded Lou and Louis of Haut Brion. Yet while these wines are remarkable in their European styling, they also bulge with an intensity that can only come from Napa, and are all the more compelling for it.
Full disclosure: some of these wines were received as press samples.
2006 Kapcsándy Family Winery Rosé, Yountville, Napa
Pale peach in color, this wine smells headily like herbs, dry Autumn leaves, and oak. In the mouth it is thick and weighty, sitting on the tongue like a linebacker swaddled in fine silk. The creamy wine lacks the acidity and brightness I normally look for in pink wines, and as a result the spicy cedar, caramel, and red berry flavors don't spark excitement as much as they just resonate with a low hum, and fade after time with a sigh. Made from 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30
2005 Kapcsándy Family Winery "Estate Cuvee" Red Wine, Yountville, Napa
A cloudy, inky garnet color in the glass, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc has a rich, earthy nose of tobacco, dark espresso, and leather aromas that include a hint of sweet oak. In the mouth the wine immediately takes charge, sculpting a flavorful experience of well-oiled leather, black cherry, and notes of cassis, all of which are dusted with powdery tannins that persist in the back palate. This wine has an excellent acid balance and a slate and graphite quality that is rarely found in Napa wine, making it remarkably distinct, even as it is delicious. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $105
2005 Kapcsándy Family Winery "State Lane Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa
Inky, dark garnet in the glass, this wine (which contains 14% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc) has an arresting nose of slate, red berries, and cocoa powder aromas that all provide the sensation of being tightly wound, as if they could explode out of your glass at any moment. Perhaps they are precursors to the tensed muscle of the wine on the palate which displays an astonishingly earthy core of leather, pencil shavings, wet dirt and dark cherry fruit that compose with perfect diction an attack on everything you thought you knew about Napa Cabernet. Outstanding balance, panther-like tannins, and an awesome finish round out what is clearly one of the best Cabernets being produced in Napa today. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $150
2005 Kapcsándy Family Winery "Roberta's Reserve" Red Wine, Yountville, Napa
Deep, dark, ruby in color, this wine can be smelled in the glass from a yard away, so beautifully lush are its aromas of plums, molasses, and stewed black cherries. In the mouth it travels lithe as a dancer, but dark and exotic in mood, spinning flavors of black plum, black cherry, and rich pipe tobacco into a concoction that captivates the palate for minutes on end with each sip. Rich without being overblown, and lacking any of the sweetness that so often accompanies the quality of fruit displayed here, this wine may very well be the best Merlot (with about 9% Cabernet Franc) produced in the Napa valley, as well as the most distinctive. Outstanding and worth all the effort required to track down one of the (sold out) 1700 bottles made in this vintage. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $140
2004 Kapcsándy Family Winery "State Lane Vineyard" Cabernet, Yountville, Napa
Medium to dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a dark, tight nose of tobacco and cherry aromas. In the mouth it is also tightly wound, though with air it relaxes a little into a muscular concentration of chocolate, cedar, black pepper, and wet earth flavors that, as they finish long, and lingering, convey the impression of being wrapped in tree bark and flowers. This wine needs a couple of years in the bottle before it will show its full potential, but it is clearly remarkable. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $140
With a production of less than 3000 cases, these wines are mostly sold to mailing list customers, however they do also make their way to select retailers. Find Kapcsándy wines online, or sign up for their mailing list.
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