Here’s how this should go:
I say, “Just got off the phone with Jimmy Kimmel, and we shot the breeze for an hour and he invited me to the guest house he’s renovating in Northern California.”
You say, “Whoa! THE Jimmy Kimmel?”
And I say, “Sure, the one who owns a winery in Mendocino; duh. Who did you think I meant?”
Then we laugh and laugh, and drink and maybe drop some blotter tabs, and I tell you that the first question I asked him—the one that almost cost me the interview—was, “So how Jewish is Sarah Silverman in the sack?”
…The only reason it didn’t cost me the interview is that it turns out that not only does Mendocino Kimmel have a sense of humor, he actually knows Hollywood Jimmy, and exchanges emails with him about fly fishing and wine and the price of tea in China.
Neither seems to be unsettled by the nominal coincidence, and that’s because they are both emotionally healthy gentlemen. Personally, I avoid Googling my name because I find it disturbing to know that I am not the Chris Kassel, I am merely a Chris Kassel.
Chardonnay Day… It Rhymes!
The reason I went through all this convoluted psycho-drama in the first place is because today is Chardonnay Day, which normally wouldn’t give me much cause to break out the ticker tape and titanium pyrotechnics, but Kimmel Vineyards sent me a bottle of 2012 Mendocino Chardonnay, and I wound up loving everything surrounding it, accounting for it, engulfing it—I loved the Kimmel konnection, the Mendocino appellation, the winemaker and above all, the wine.
Mendocino is the kind of appellation that fans of California Esoteric are drawn to, primarily because it isn’t Napa or Sonoma. Said Kimmel (once our conversation found less obnoxious ground): “I considered buying property in Napa or Sonoma, but ultimately, I could never be happy there. Or, I think, anywhere outside Mendocino.”
And who can blame him? Mendocino County is gorgeous; not only is it perched on the foggy, moody, picturesque North coast, it is tree country long before it is grape country. Contained within the quarter million acres are the largest redwoods in the world; more than 60% of the AVA is forest.
Winemakers have known since the 1850s that the rest is prime wine country, with the requisite diurnal temperature shifts to preserve acids at night while packing in sugars during the day. In my estimation, it’s prettier than Napa at a fraction of the real estate price, so the wines—with the potential to be phenomenal—have a much more favorable value/quality ratio.
And so do the wine tours.
Kimmel Vineyards is thirty-seven miles from the Pacific Ocean, and the accommodating winds play well against the North Coast heat. It is typical of a top wine estate in both product and posterity; at the helm sits 91-year-old Lillian Kimmel, who (along with her late husband) purchased the 1100 acre ranch in 1963 and set out to raise cattle, not Chardonnay.
“In high school, I used to fix fences and haul in cows that escaped,” Kimmel tells me. “By 1986, the family took a look around at the Trincheros and Kendall-Jackson and realized it might make more sense to raise something that stayed put at night.”
By that point, the Kimmel family had a lot of connections in the area, and found a ready market for their produce. It was high quality, and planted with circumspection and a sophistication understanding of vine placement. But the grape market fluctuates, and by 2007, they couldn’t recoup costs based on what local people were willing to pay—again, this isn’t Napa, where a ton of grapes averages $4000; they were lucky to command a quarter of that. So, they started crushing their own. They hired Bruce Regalia (from Madrigal) to make the wine—he was a longtime Mendocino resident and understood the place, then as now. Today, he works closely with Mark Welch, the vineyard manager, to sop the most out of the AVA.
The Chardonnay that Jim Kimmel sent my way is bright, balanced and buttery; it shows the keen acidity that is the cornerstone of the climate’s contribution, and is the foundation of what Kimmel describes as ‘food wine’; I drank the 2012—he told me the 2013 vintage is even crisper. Adjusting acids is not part of the Kimmel wine program, and the wines remain true to what the terroir allows.
Solid as the product is, Kimmel claims that his Merlot is the real show-stopper: “Taste it blind with all the biggest names in California Merlot—Duckhorn, Venge, Twomey, etc.—and I can almost guarantee it’s in the top five.”
That’s the kind of self-confidence and self-promotion that Mendocino needs; the sort of self-promotion that occasionally lands one a late night variety show. I vow to do my part. I promised Jimmy Kimmel that I would to set up a blind tasting with the very lineup he suggested in honor of Merlot Day 2016 (November 7) and he, in turn, promised me sloppy seconds with Sarah Silverman. Come November, we’ll see who delivers.
Meanwhile, will somebody please tell Matt Damon we ran out of time?