Boo – A …sort of Halloween Story
A few months ago, at a Cabernet tasting at Bentley Reserve, I was struck by a wine which gave me a pause, it was the sort of wine one hopes to find and when one does, they just can’t believe their good fortune.
The wine spoke to me in ways that made the room quiet and my senses dance. Whenever I experience these types of sensory transformations, I instinctively know that it is a special treat.
This head-turning wine was offered by an attractive, thoughtful woman who looked more like a dreamy siren or romantic heroine than a vintner. She exuded this… luminescence. I fell in love with her silky, elegant, effervescent, meticulously crafted, quintessentially authentic, gorgeous Cabernet and with her vibrant, yet soothing presence.
Fast forward to tonight. My invitation read:
“Please join us at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant this October 27 from 4:30-7:30 PM. Kristine, along with Winemaker Philippe Melka and the Entre Nous team, will be pouring flights that include all of the estate wines: two vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon along with our Sauvignon Blanc and Rose.”
Firstly, I can relate to any start-up, however well-positioned, via simple dynamic. The wordsmiths and the wine-smiths have a commonality of sorts – if we don’t connect with our audience, we are doomed to fail.
Kristine’s brand, Entre Nous was to be officially introduced to the world. How could I miss it? If you hadn’t guessed already, the siren turned vintner is none other than Kristine Ashe, who isresponsible for assembling an impressive team of Napa Valley heavyweights who helped elevate her magical estate fruit to withering heights.
Her vineyard manager is Jim Barbour.
Her winemaker is Phillippe Melka.
Her 2007 Cabernet is sold out. “Shocking”, I know:)
She credits “word of mouth” and the loyalty of the individuals that the brand attracted. She also credits her winemaking philosophy as well as being very price conscientious; not making the wines prohibitively expensive along with her runaway success. I have a slightly different theory.
In the highly competitive and crowded world of Napa Valley $100+ Cabernet and Cabernet Blends, a bottling has to be quite special to stand out; especially in these doldrums called “US economy of late”. It is no longer enough to have a pedigree, a stellar vineyard and a famous wine making consultant to attain “cult” status. To stand out requires an edge.
Paradoxically, the production costs are the same or more as previous vintages and 2010 was a challenging vintage to boot. The labor costs associated with vineyard stewardship didn’t change. Growers were required to make multiple passes through the vineyard to ensure proper canopy management due to heat spikes and walls of rain that spelled the looming danger of mildew. Barrel sales have slowed some but their prices didn’t go down, not to mention the consulting expertise that is in no less demand (or costly).
Yet the consumer’s expectations are at an all-time high. If they are to part with their dollars these days, they want an irresistible reason; an offer they simply cannot refuse.
These discerning consumers apparently went after Entre Nous with gusto.
It’s what’s in the bottle that deserves the credit for a sellout vintage. And what is in the bottle is a direct reflection of who is behind it.
I don’t often say this, folks, but here it is. If you love Napa Valley Cabernet at its finest and don’t sign up for this mailing list, you will regret it.
I ended up chatting with Kristine’s family and her “team.” I was struck by how very different, yet cohesive, the group and the gathering itself were. In my line of work, I grew to be very sensitive to the atmosphere of any wine related gathering. I was a bit perplexed at the spirit of this one. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and only after I have had a few in depth conversations did it was evident that it was Kristine herself who made all the difference. She had this uncanny ability to relate and make everyone feel valued.
Kristine or “Boo” as her family affectionately calls her, is a trained Psychologist. She is thoughtful and tremendously talented; as well as intuitive grower turned vintner and mother of two young boys, ages 4 and 6. She is also a S.F. Giants fan in general and Tim Lincecum in particular, in case you were wondering.
She is the driving force behind turning her family estate vineyard’s fruit, previously sold to a number of illustrious wineries, into a successful brand.
Although she credits Debbie Zachrareas of Bacar and Ferry Plaza Merchant fame, with inspiring her to forge ahead with her own label; I got a sense that it was an inevitable extension of who Kristine Ashe is – an unassuming Nurturer and Unifier.
From where I sit, she could run the State. She would not only be an effective governor; but we would all drink well. She’d sure get my endorsement.
I have always deeply believed in a healing power of human “touch”, in word and/or in deed; in the positive impact of meaningful social interaction rooted in thoughtful intelligence. I myself have been a lucky recipient of emotional generosity on occasion and it taught me to never underestimate it.
One only needs to spend a few moments in the company of Dana, one of Kristine’s two sisters to realize how special “Boo” really is.
It was clear that Dana idolizes and looks up to Kristine. What was startling, however, is that, by her own admission, having been a bartender for eight years (currently she is at the Boulevard), she grew so desensitized to many aspects of her patron’s storytelling; their endless complaining and often redundant plights, that one wondered why was she so visibly smitten? Much like a wine critic who tastes wines on a near daily basis one has to be really impressed for the “hum” of the usual to be interrupted and have a true impact. Dana is a “free spirit”, a bit rebellious, always questioning and searching for answers but she also struck me as a practical, “seen and heard it all” sort of individual who is not easily impressed. In that context my curiosity was tweaked even more… why was she gushing about her older sister?
Every family has a story. Kristine’s does as well, and is clearly a family of strong-minded individuals who seek excellence in life and who don’t believe in defeat or default. As I was watching her glide effortlessly about the crowded room, making introductions, giving hugs, being very much a part of the very fabric of the event and at the same time setting the tone, it became clear that Kristine’s role in her family and perhaps far beyond that is what I so often attribute to wine – the social glue that binds us.
She is the one organizing family gatherings and bringing members together wherever they are geographically or emotionally. She always has a kind, encouraging word. She is always proud of them and includes them in every event, takes every opportunity to nurture them, embrace them, makes them feel special. She believes in cultivating relationships in life and in wine. She is authentic, (as in not one false note detected on my radar) and true to herself and those around her.
It is clearly no coincidence that I have felt Kristine’s beautiful spirit, full of grace and goodwill at a previous wine event and that she stood out so much. These things transcend and translate.
And they taste so good…
Her wines are, fittingly, a reflection of her beauty, elegance, harmony with her worlds and what seems like an endless supply of love and affection for her family, her community, her land and her craft.
Her labor intensive viticulture practices, such as hand de-stemming method, are simply an extension of her philosophy in life; the gentility of how she treats everyone in her path is translated into grapes, resulting in the sort of magic one rarely encounters.
Want to continue the story? Start your own relationship with Boo and her fabulous wines at www.kristineashevineyards.com