A Winemaker To Watch

Justin Kahler can appreciate the Extra Virgin lifestyle. He knows that taking an agricultural product like grapes, and turning it into a finished product like wine, requires infinite decisions and collaborations with Mother Nature. Justin’s journey began in the enology program at Cal State Fresno and continued through Spain, Bordeaux, New Zealand, and Monterrey. Now JK Wine Company, his Paso Robles-based winery, works with the area’s unique topography to grow varietals native to Spain and the Rhône valley.

He chooses sustainably farmed vineyards to grow his clones because he believes that one’s input determines one’s output.

Limestone SoilAccording to Justin, many things make up an ideal vineyard. Soil is finite. One must nurture the soil’s microenvironment so that it will continue to produce over time. Water management is an important factor in producing better grapes. Also, the more ecologically dynamic the flora, and the more sustainable, the higher quality the vineyard. And good grapes equal great wine. When the vines are “copacetic with the environment around them,” the product is profitable.

Kahler takes a direct monitoring approach to the vineyards he works with, weighing all the options throughout the growing season to take the safest approach with each decision. This process helps to sustain yeast populations on the grapes, which is important because JK Wine Company uses native, or wild, yeast to start the fermentation process for many of its balanced, structured wines.

Syrah in French Oak BarrelOne of these vineyards, Glenrose Vineyard, provides JK Wine Company with its Syrah. The terraced vineyard is west facing and the cool marine air flows in from the Pacific through the Templeton Gap, producing an ideal growing climate. The marine sediment and whale bone fossilized in the limestone make for good acidity and balanced, expressive wines. Planted in the chalky, calcareous soil is clone 99, a Syrah obtained from Château de Beaucastel in the Châteauneuf du Pape AOC. The vines are hand harvested and the wine aged 18 months in French oak.

Syrah in BottleIn an unconventional pairing, we opened a bottle of the Katin 2008 Glenrose Vineyard Syrah for a backyard fiesta. It was initially very tight, opening slightly to give off a strong anise bouquet with a hint of blueberries and a dry, piney mouth feel. The meal started off with a Mexican-inspired take on bruschetta: garlic and salt-rubbed bread topped with sliced avocado and crushed red pepper. The Syrah held up to the heat from the pepper and complimented the jalepeño and chiles in the rest of our meal surprisingly well.

Once decanted and accompanied by chicken street tacos and a spicy cucumber-corn salad, the Syrah had a velvet mouth feel and tasted of chicory coffee, carmel, vanilla and cedar.

Syrah in Glass

Keeping with the phenominal combo of Syrah and spice, take the traditional Lamb-Syrah pairing to a new level and serve the Katin with Grilled Leg of Lamb and Salsa Verde. Or if it’s too hot to cook, let someone else do it for you. Justin’s wines are served at BOA and several other restaurants in the LA area. ¡Salud!