Lunch with John and Maggie Kongsgaard

WINE LUNCH W/JOHN AND MAGGIE KONGSGAARD – John and Maggie Kongsgaard’s home, Spring Mountain, Napa (7/17/2004)

John Kongsgaard (with Michael Bonnacorsi) at 2003 Hospice du Rhone

John Kongsgaard (with Michael Bonnacorsi) at 2003 Hospice du Rhone

This was a memorable event, when John and Maggie Kongsgaard opened up their home to us (and Maggie cooked lunch, using a lot of produce from their own garden) when the L.A. Chapter of the American Wine Society, of which I was then Chair, made its annual trip to Napa. Our hosts couldn’t have been more gracious and generous. Maggie cooked and served (and showed us around the garden), and John played music and talked to us about winemaking and the wines he was serving. They were all his wines, except for the final wine, served with our cheese course, which was a magnum of ’86 Beaucastel.

Chardonnay
The Kongsgaards grow Chardonnay at the vineyard near Trancas that John’s grandfather owned. There are 10 acre of Chardonnay on the homestead, as well as a few hundred vines of Roussanne and Marsanne. The first vines were planted in 1975, and the other half in 1990-1991. They also buy Chardonnay from Hudson and Hyde vineyards, which have more high notes and fruit. John finds the home vineyard to be more minerally.

John said that the failing of California Chardonnay is that it is too fruity, and producers who are all using the same yeast end up with results that tend toward uniformity. John prefers White Burgundy. They pick very ripe at the Quarry site, which yields 3/4s to 1 and a half tons per acre. He lets the natural yeast do the fermentation, which can take 3 months to a year, then they clarify naturally. Battonage is once per week.

John started the Kongsgaard label in 1996. Newton got the grapes before that, for 13 years. He learned to give it two years in barrel, which helps to clarify and assure that the fruit is more in the background. They use all new barrels, except on the Roussanne/Viognier.

    Kongsgaard label

  • 2001 Kongsgaard Chardonnay – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Tasty, fresh, vanilla, melon, marshmallow, spice, palate, with good balance and depth; long spicy finish 94 points
  • 1998 Kongsgaard Chardonnay – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Earthy, lovely, floral, marshmallow, honeyed nose; lovely, concentrated but balanced, citrus, mineral, nutty, spicy palate; long finish 95 points

Roussanne/Viognier

Arietta H Block
This was the “world premiere” of the ’02 H Block. Beethoven’s 32nd Sonata is called Arietta. It was written toward the end of his life.

John’s teacher was Michel Roland. John struggled with Cab Franc at Newton. Roland showed him how to grow it. Roland used to say “too much production” when visiting growers in California. Kongsgaard had the first ever pay-by-acre deal in Napa, under Roland’s direction.

They co-ferment the Franc and Merlot, which are usually picked the same day (meaning they have to decide on the blend in the field). Larry Hyde is the grower. Typically Arietta is last to pick. They’ve used that vineyard for 10 years now. John started making a Cab Franc/Merlot blend from H Block in 1984.

Variation One
The ’99 Kongsgaard Merlot was the trial balloon for Variation. It was 80% Merlot, 20% Syrah. After veraison, they have to make decisions on thinning. They took two and a half tons down to one and a half in 2000. He made a small amount of Merlot that year, and some say it is the best thing he’s made.

  • 2000 Arietta Variation One – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Light cherry, herbaceous nose; tasty, herbaceous palate, thinner than the ’02; medium-plus finish 93 points
  • 2002 Arietta Variation One – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Big vanilla, oak nose; rich, concentrated, tasty, vanilla, ripe plum palate; long finish 95 points

Syrah & Beaucastel

  • 2001 Kongsgaard Syrah – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Big, ripe, Syrah, herbal, minty nose; rich blackberry, blueberry palate; medium-plus finish (decanted 4 hours) 95 points
  • 1986 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    From magnum – beautiful garrigue nose; youthful, ripe cherry and garrigue palate; medium-plus finish 95 points
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