2016 Inconnu Kitsune
Region: Carneros < Napa Valley < California
Grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
Vineyard/Cellar Stats: organic farming, clay/loam soil, minimal added SO2, aged in used oak barrels, unfined/lightly filtered, 13% ABV
Winemaker: Laura Brennan Bissel
One-woman show Laura Brennan Bissel is a good friend, working mama of three, and total badass who started her own label in 2016. With an old-world elegance and balance to them, her wines drink on the classic end of the spectrum, proving that natural wine doesn’t have to be edgy or experimental-tasting. Like this old-school Bordeaux/California blend that 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. Which hardly anyone else in the valley is doing these days, especially at this price. Why? Because Napa/Sonoma fruit has been in such high demand that Big Wine has been amassing larger holdings of the region’s already high-priced vineyard land -- which 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, most small, artisanal and natural producers are looking to less-famous grape varieties and/or less-prestigious growing regions. Which is why so many natural wines come from vineyards on the outskirts, in Mendocino, Contra Costa, Lodi, etc.
So, how the heck did Laura manage to bottle such an impressive and authentic expression of Carneros terroir at this super affordable price? Because she rolled up her sleeves and did everything herself. She doesn’t have the cash to compete for expensive, old-vine Cab and Merlot in the fancy Los Carneros AVA, so she approached the owner of one of her favorite vineyards there and asked if she could hand-farm a few rows of the property herself in exchange for significantly lower grape pricing. Then she did her usual low-intervention thing, which costs a lot less than using all the manipulations available in a modern winemakers tool box. All work was done by hand —no mechanical sorting, no glycol temperature control, no complex filtration, no off-the-shelf additives, and no input from consulting oenologists. Like everything she makes, this is a hands-off, one-woman wine.
We’re not big fans of Napa reds, but we’re kind of obsessed with this elegant and classic example of “golden era” Napa, which shows all of the Bordeaux varietal qualities people hunt for, but in a much more delicate and subtle expression. It’s plush and inky, with plum, black tea, cedar and dusky cherry, but the fruit is taut and layered rather than one-dimensionally rich, the alcohol is restrained and the acid is vibrant. Decant and drink now, or let her sit for a few years - this baby will only get better with age. In fact, if you can, buy two bottles and drink one tonight, because it's crazy delicious now, but then cellar the other one, and watch it blossom into an even more complex and aromatic wine over the next 10 years. Also, let’s face it: truly hand-crafted Sonoma/Napa reds of this caliber—and particularly from a rising superstar like Laura —are few and far between in the $25-35 price point.