As more and more California wine-grape growers plant more and more Cabernet Sauvignon, it is refreshing to witness brave souls who buck the trend and explore what other varietals can offer. Zach and Katy Long, the duo behind Jonas Cellars, have created a small but wonderful collection of Cabernet Franc-based wines — from both Napa and Sonoma — including a Rosé they call the Aerialist.
“This is really a passion project for us — it’s what we do when we come home after work,” Zach said. “It’s like if a computer coder came home at night and just couldn’t wait to sit down in front of the computer and write more code — that’s us.”
The analogy is apt because Zach’s day job is as wine director at Sonoma’s Kunde Family Winery, where he oversees the winemaking at the 1,850-acre estate, of which 750 acres are planted in vineyards, a few dating back to the mid-1800s. After spending all day crafting a variety of wines from dozens of different varietals of grapes, Zach spends time working on Jonas’ wines.
“We only make about 300 to 400 cases total per year of all our Jonas Cellar wine, and for the Aerialist Rosé it’s more like 40 to 50 cases,” he said. “We’ve been making the Jonas wines since 2006 and we’ve never made a profit, but we are doing it because we believe in the uniqueness of Cab Franc and the wonderful expression of place you can get when it’s grown in different places.”
Zach explains that although he believes that Cabernet Sauvignon is relatively “easy” to grow and make, Cab Franc is “just about as challenging to grow as Pinot Noir” and is a varietal that requires that the growers and winemaker get to know the site intimately.
“With many Cab (Cabernet Sauvignon) vineyards you can walk out there and say, ‘Yeah, this is looking good and will make great wine,’” he said. “But with Cab Franc you need to spend time out in the vineyard and get to know the site and how the vineyards are interacting with both the geology and environment — it can take years to fully understand a Cab Franc site.”
“We feel exceptionally fortunate that the Kunde family has provided us with the flexibility and support that they have,” said Katy, who is a brand advocate and wine educator for Vintage Wine Estates and co-owner of Jonas Cellars. “There are some winery owners that might frown on the winemaker having their own brand, but the Kundes have encouraged us every step of the way.”
As a part of that encouragement they’ve even planted a vineyard designated for Jonas Cellar wines.
“The reason we felt it was important for Zach to keep his passion project is that it gives him one more reason to maintain his love of the wine industry,” said Jeff Kunde, chairman of the board of Kunde Family Winery. “Zach is a farm boy at heart and what a better way for him to be in contact with his vines and wine all year long.”
Rosé a growing
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While Rosé wine only represents about 1.5 percent of the total table-wine category, according to Nielson, sales grew 40 percent in 2017.
“People are looking for something new and different,” said Glenn Hugo, winemaker at Girard Winery and also winemaker of his own brand, Hugo Family Cellars, which makes a delicious Rosé, too. “Folks want a wine that is lower alcohol and can pair with a range of foods, so it makes perfect sense that Rosé is growing in popularity.”
Rosé is not made from a specific grape or region but is instead a classification of wine, like red or white. The rose color of Rosé is derived from contact with red (often called black) grape skins. Often the wines are made using a winemaking technique called Saignée (“sohn-yay”), which means “to bleed” in French. This process of siphoning off a portion of red wine juice after it has been in contact with the skins and seeds has two results: 1) an often lightly colored juice that can be made into Rosé and 2) greater concentration for the wine being “bled.”
Saignée is one reason there is such a wide range of flavors and profiles for Rosé-style wines. A winemaker can bleed off any red grape varietal and the results can be vastly different. Every winemaking region has its own take on Rosé, but the most famous is arguably the Provencal Rosé from Southern France. These wines are often made from blends of the local grapes, such as Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah, and sometimes with the more obscure Vermentino (Rolle), producing bright, salmon-colored wines with flavors of red berries, fennel, dried herbs and tangerine. Less famous perhaps but equally as compelling are often the Rosés from the Loire Valley, of which the Cabernet d’Anjou is often made using Cab Franc grapes that have flavors ranging from cherry to baking spices. Unlike the Provencal Rosés, which are meant to be enjoyed within months of harvest, the Loire Rosés are often capable of being aged for years.
The Aerialist Rosé
The 2017 Aerialist Rosé has just been released, and with a limited 44 cases made and at $30, this wine will not last long. Although primarily Cab Franc, this blend also includes up to 15 percent Grenache. The wine shimmers a pink-salmon color, which is both beautiful and enticing. Aromas of orange marmalade, ginger and tangerine zest burst from the glass and are echoed in the mouth with additional lasting flavors of green cardamom, porcini mushroom, sweet sage and white peach.
This is a wine that would pair well with cheese (think goat cheese and mushroom tart) as well as charcuterie, crab cakes or nearly anything grilled over an open flame (rosemary, garlic and balsamic marinated grilled baby zucchini, for example).
“We spend our time thinking about and talking about wine — we are pretty obsessed,” Zach said. “And Rosé wines, along with our other wines, are all made without compromise. We are not becoming rich and famous from our efforts, but we have a nice life and besides, if we have a few extra bottles left over we can always drink them ourselves, which is something I can live with.”
The newly released Jonas Cellar Rosé wines are worth seeking out and can be found locally at Napa’s Bounty Hunter or ordered directly through the winery’s website.