Situated on the hills between Cotati and Petaluma, Karah Estate Vineyard takes the lead from its founder, Michael Karah, in continuing its legacy, now carried on by 25-year-old winemaker, Megan Brodie.
“He’s not somebody that fits in any category,” says Michael’s daughter, Karimah, who serves as winery manager. “He’s never limited by standards or accomplishments or convention. He sets the tone.”
Indeed, Karah purchased the estate and planted grapes 30 years ago, well before the American Viticultural Area it lies in, the Petaluma Gap, was certified. Now 85 years of age, Karah has placed his winery in Brodie’s hands. Each has international ties, with Karah hailing from Libya and Brodie gaining inspiration for winemaking from her South African parents. Brodie, in charge since June 2019, immediately rewarded Karah’s trust by continuing a tradition of award-winning wines. “I’m lucky,” says Brodie. “For him to say ‘I know you have control of the winery and you’re doing what you need to do,’ he really has a lot of belief in me.”
Karah’s trust in Brodie is well founded. With a viticulture and enology degree from University of California, Davis, she’s harvested Alsatian varietals in Luxembourg and learned to distill sodabi, or palm liquor, while in the Peace Corps in West Africa. Her local experience includes time with The Winery SF and Subject to Change Wine Co., as well as Fort Point Beer Company. An Oakland native, Brodie initially planned a career in gastronomy and dreamt of being a chef, but her parent’s love for wine, most notably Pinotage, South Africa’s signature varietal, led her to pursue her present path. “My palate is my weapon, allowing my sensory ability to be at the forefront of my winemaking decisions,” says Brodie, who adds that she most wine analysis in house. “I’m a little bit science-y, but it’s still an art. I try to be minimal intervention and let the grape speak for itself, finding something between an elegant and a balanced wine.”
For the first taste on a windy, temperate day atop the Petaluma Gap, Karah Estate Vineyard offers its 2018 Chenin Blanc. Sipping this wine with a sweeping view of the vineyard from a spacious patio, placed right beside an elegant tasting room, it’s easy to see how the AVA earned its distinction. The wine doesn’t disappoint. An aroma of lemon, toasted almonds and tropical lychee prepares the palate for lively acidity with flavors of green apple and quince jam, making it the perfect drink for springtime or relaxing by the pool. As with our next two tastes, Brodie blended, filtered and readied this wine for the bottle; when she arrived at Karah Estate Vineyard, its 2018 varietals were sitting in barrel. The Chenin Blanc grapes were sourced from the Heringer Vineyard in Clarksburg, but future vintages will be estate grown, using winegrapes just recently planted.
Next, we try a splash of the 2018 Estate Chardonnay. Using 100 percent malolactic fermentation and Hungarian and French oak barrels, this wine is crisp and tart and has a bit of caramel sweetness in its smell. It has a soft mouthfeel, due to the malolatic fermentation, while maintaining a bright acidity to pair well with savory foods. Flavors of Meyer lemon, Granny Smith apple and lemon peel give way to a floral finish.
For taste No. 3, Nicholas McCook, cellar master, pours a sip of Karah Estate Vineyard’s 2018 Estate Grown Pinot Noir, which won gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in November last year. With aromas of red fruit, black pepper and clove, this taste has satisfying flavors of cherry, blackberry and black currant. Its color is a dark, rich purple and part of what makes the Petaluma Gap unique. “We get a big wind tunnel coming through in the afternoon. That lends toward getting thick skins on our grapes, and we get a rich color on our wine,” she says, adding that coastal fog works in tandem with the wind, providing a longer growing season and intensely flavored berries.
To get an idea of what a more aged wine from the estate offers, we try the 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir. A gold medal winner at the SF International Wine Competition when it was first bottled, the reserve Pinot is crafted with the best grapes sourced from Karah’s 35-acre vineyard, which sits on a 144 acres of land. Aged in 33 percent French oak, a sip reveals floral flavors with mature notes of red fruit, cherry and raspberry.
For the 2019 vintage, Brodie will oversee the process from beginning to end, though Michael is still a fixture the winery. He’s a jack-of-all-trades, according to Brodie, even hiking to the top of the estate hill to tend to the water tower. “He amuses me thoroughly, honestly. He’s a very quirky individual. We have a bit of banter when he’s here—my relationship with him is great,” she says. As for Brodie’s journey as a North Bay winemaker, it’s been a willful adjustment, and she’s just getting started. “I’m definitely a city girl. This is new for me, being up in the countryside. I’m incredibly privileged, for sure. I get the highest quality grapes and the world is my oyster. It’s a fantastic opportunity.”
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