Women’s History Month: Cheers to Jenny Wagner, Emmolo Winemaker

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I haunt wine sales, bin ends, mark downs, price changes — I’m not proud. I like a good deal.

So when I found Emmolo Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc on clearance at my local grocery store for around $10 instead of $30, I picked up a bottle, and gave it a swirl.

I liked it so much I went back and bought more. And then I went back and bought the rest of it.

And then when I broke my wrist at Thanksgiving and couldn’t open a bottle of wine with a corkscrew to save my life, I was really really grateful to have this reliable, delicious, flexible wine at my fingertips.

Because, seriously,  I love sauvignon blanc. It goes with so many of the foods we enjoy and eat on a regular basis like pesto, oysters, and salads. Sauvignon blanc loves acidic foods like caprese salad (arugula, basil, tomatoes), lemony ceasar salad with anchovies, basil pesto with pasta…

So for me, this was the winter of Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc.

I never grew tired of it or bored with Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc. It hit my palate just right: bright with wet stone but not sharp, fragrant of citrus and white flowers like honeysuckle and meyer lemon but no cat pee (admit it, you know what I mean!)

If anything, this is a gentle, easy to appreciate and drink wine whether right after work, while making dinner, or with many a meal.

And I sure did appreciate that screw top! Even if your wrist is not broken like mine, you can appreciate those moments whether you are camping or on a picnic or have guests or so many instances where it is just so nice to twist the cap off and pour the darn bottle of wine into the glass!

Since it was usually me drinking the wine (my husband is more of a craft beer guy), I also loved that I could store the wine on its side and not make a mess– and, even better, it held up for several days in the fridge without losing much of its refined, elegant, complex character.

Sourced from two family vineyards, their website says that “Emmolo Rutherford provides fresh citrus characteristics, while Emmolo Oak Knoll lends crisp mineralogy.”  Grapes are pressed then fermented in stainless steel tanks and older French oak barrels, which Jenny Wagner says adds “depth and complexity while preserving the variety’s character.”

This wine pairs so well with food but it is a delight on its own.

In the Sauvignon Blanc, “I’m going after a subtle wine that is more minerality-driven than fruit-driven. In my view, with sauvignon blanc, less is more,” says Jenny Wagner. I think she achieved this!

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When I was considering which women wine makers to write about this month, I remembered that the Sauvignon Blanc that helped me make it through my convalescence was made by a woman, Jenny Wagner, of the esteemed Wagner winemaking family, makers of Caymus Vineyards which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, plus Mer Soleil, Conundrum (of the well known red and white blends that pair well with food), Belle Glos (famous for its pinot noir dripping in sensual red wax), and Emmolo, where Jenny Wagner is now making Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot from vineyards where her grandparents Frank and Anne Emmolo live… and making Emmolo wine in the original winery her great-grandfather built in 1934.

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photo of winemaker Jenny Wagner from the Wagner Family website

Like Brittany Rice-Claypool of Millesime who I wrote about earlier this month, Jenny Wagner’s family has been growing grapes, tending vines, and making wine for several generations. The name for Emmolo comes from Jenny’s mom, Cheryl Emmolo. In 1923, Jenny’s great-grandfather, Salvatore Emmolo, started the family’s grapevine rootstock nursery in St. Helena. Jenny’s grandfather, Frank Emmolo managed the nursery, and grew Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot on their family property. With no sons to carry on the Emmolo name, in 1994, Jenny’s mother Cheryl created the Emmolo label to ensure the family name continued.

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Jenny Wagner, Chuck Wagner and Jack (Winery Dog) from Wagner Family Wines website

On her father’s side of the family tree, Carl Wagner’s family grew wine grapes in Alsace so naturally when he immigrated to Napa, he and wife Catherine Wagner planted grapes on seventy acres of land in Rutherford in 1906. In 1915 Carl started the Wagner winery (where Honig Estate stands today). Within a few years, they were producing 30,000 gallons of bulk wine. Their son, Charlie, was born in 1912, and eloped with Lorna Belle Glos in 1934, and they began farming soon after. In the 1960s, they decided to pull out their orchards and devote the land to wine grape growing. In 1972 that Jenny’s dad Chuck and his parents went from making wine for the family from their grapes to a full-fledged winery operation, “Caymus Vineyards,” after the original Mexican land grant.

From her family on both sides, Jenny learned both grape farming and winemaking.

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Jenny Wagner with two of her brothers and her dad

“For eight generations, our family has lived in and loved the Napa Valley. Working the land with our own hands has given us insights into grape growing and winemaking that cannot be found in any farm manual or book. We think of ourselves as farmers at heart, because that is what our family winery was founded on and it is what continues to help set us apart in both quality and innovation today,”says Chuck Wagner.

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2011 – Emmolo – Merlot – 15.3% alcohol – SRP $80

Recently, I found a bottle of Jenny Wagner’s 2011 Emmolo on sale for around $30 (instead of SRP of $80, although it can be found for around $50). The first thing I noticed about this bottle of wine is the impressive heft of the bottle.

In the glass, next we noticed the deep robust color of the wine. It is rich and dense.

1486667_10153441481395924_6166469483717981465_nEven outside, you cannot see through to the bottom of the glass. It does not matter how close you get to the bottom of the glass, you cannot see the bottom through the rich dense color.

The ring is like burgundy velvet, dense yet with a lighter ring.

There is a muskiness on the nose and you can also smell the alcohol on this wine, but at 15.3% it is to be expected. In addition to musk, we found prunes and cherries. The muskiness made us think that this a very manly merlot — made by a woman. Barnyard, horse leather, cigar box, all of these typically masculine characteristics come through in this wine, yet it also has fruit and accessibility of a wine that can stand up to a big meal.

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A very big wine, we thought it would pair well with a seven bone roast or other braised meats. This would be very nice with cassoullette. This wine is as rich and as dense as that kind of meal: rich dense peasant food that takes days to stew, even a venison chili.

When this wine was first opened, it was super tight. It could have pinged right off the glass. As it opened up, it lost the alcohol nose and mellowed out nicely. As the wine opened up, we found sage and spearmint with dried cocoa on the finish. This wine does not have that right away, however when you swirl it around in your mouth there is a bit of spearmint. As it continued to open, I found orange chocolate on the nose, and more fruit: stronger cherry plus lingonberry, boysenberry,  and blueberry.

So cheers to Jenny Wagner! We look forward to seeing where you go in wine!

Also in this series:

Brittany Rice- Claypool, Millesime in Ventura County
Kimberly Smith, LaMontagne in Santa Barbara County

 

 

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