Wines from the next generation
In much of Europe, wine families have legacies and traditions that span both centuries and generations. Not so much here in America.
So it was interesting to have a conversation with Jenny Wagner, the winemaker of Emmolo wines, a winery project that produces merlot and sauvignon blanc in the Napa Valley. Wagner is a seventh-generation Napa Valley resident, and her pride is obvious. She is the third child of Chuck Wagner, patriarch of one of the most successful winemaking families in America and the co-founder of Caymus Vineyards.
THE WAGNER FAMILY OF WINE
The wines of Caymus, first introduced in the early 1970s by Charles (Charlie) and Lorna Wagner and son Chuck, are California classics. The Caymus cabernet sauvignon, Napa Valley Special Selection was named Wine Spectator Wine of the Year for the 1984 and 1990 vintages. No other wine in the publication’s 40-year history has been named twice. Caymus is the heart of the Wagner Family of Wine, which now includes the Conundrum, Mer Soleil and Red Schooner brands, all overseen by Jenny’s brother Charlie, in addition to Emmolo.
While the family heritage was built on cabernet sauvignon, Jenny and Charlie Wagner are building their legacies with grapes sourced from different appellations. It is part of a diversification strategy that has allowed them to put their own stamp on their individual winemaking careers while working together in the family business.
“Dad has always inspired us to keep trying new things,” said the 29-year old Jenny.
THE WINES OF EMMOLO
Emmolo merlot is ripe, rich and concentrated. “The wines are all about balance, with soft tannins and structure being equally important,” Jenny said of her merlot, which hails from a pair of family-owned vineyard sites, one of which had its genesis on her mother’s side of the family, and the second of which is now owned and farmed by her father’s side.
Jenny’s second wine is a sauvignon blanc made in a clean and lean style that best reflects the terroir of the Emmolo vineyards in Rutherford and Oak Knoll. “I’m not a big fan of herbaceous or ‘green’ sauvignon blanc,” she said. “I like a lighter style that is crisp and has firm acidity,” she noted when explaining the very different style she uses in approaching her white wine as opposed to the bigger merlot. Emmolo made a combined total 30,000 or so cases of the 2014 merlot and the 2015 sauvignon blanc in the most recent release, a substantial number for a relatively young winemaker.
Of course, it was inevitable that Jenny would follow in the family craft. Growing up in the Napa Valley, she attended the local schools before matriculating to study business at the University of San Diego. She returned to the valley and went to work learning the skills of wine production as “an assistant to the assistant” on the Caymus winemaking team.
A TRADITION TAKES HOLD
In 1994, Jenny’s mother, Cheryl Emmolo, introduced the Emmolo label to extend the name and wine tradition that dates to 1923, when Frank Emmolo, Jenny’s grandfather, came to Napa from Italy. They were perhaps best known for creating a successful business that provided grapevine rootstock to other winemakers in the valley.
It’s exciting to see emerging generations step into the American wine tradition.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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