To most of us the world of wine making is foreign and bordering on exotic, isn’t it? In this week’s blog, we share what we have learned from one of CKJY Exports’ favorite winemakers, Chuck McKahn. Recently, he took the time to share with us more on inside wine world from a winemaker’s perspective.
Learning the Winemaking Craft –
McKahn Family Cellars is the essence of a family business. Chuck’s parents encouraged him to pursue his interest in wine at Cal Poly University. Chuck has fond memories of working in the school’s functioning winery there in San Luis Obispo. The school’s motto is to “learn by doing” and he vividly remembers crushing grapes and bottling wine by hand as a student in the old Agriculture annex building. However, this was just the beginning to his wine making education.
After completing his academic studies, Chuck got his first glimpse of a winemaker’s perspective from some of the best in the business. On Pritchard Hill in the prized Saint Helena AVA, Phillip Titus and his team at Chappellet taught Chuck hands on winemaking and more. He worked there as for five years progressing from intern to enologist and, briefly, as an assistant winemaker. For fifty years the Chappellet family has been making both exceptional wine and a difference in the Napa community. In fact, their family’s example of excellence and stewardship made such a impression on Chuck that when he gets to be 75 years old, he hopes his wine legacy emulates theirs with third and fourth generation McKahns contributing to the Livermore community.
Making of a WineMaker –
As a millennial winemaker, our team felt Chuck may have experienced the wine industry a bit differently and asked him questions about possible aspect of his winemaker’s perspective. Surprisingly, he responded that once a mentor told him it isn’t about the age of the winemaker but the miles. Chuck has been involved in the wine business for 11 years or a third of his life.
As the McKahn Family Cellars wines win awards at major competitions, it is extremely rewarding to their whole family. Consequently, Chuck’s wines are a labor of love and feel almost like his children. He isn’t the only one who feels this way because he works with his parents, who feel as if their wines are their grandchildren. However, it was his wife who inspired him to work with the Rhone varietals, his favorites. His winemaker’s perspective is definitely filled with intense focus, deep devotion and many hours of work to produce the very best wines possible for their family’s name. Truly, you can taste this in each glass.
Winemaker’s Perspective on the Wine Business –
While their family winery tasting room is open three days a week, they are hard at work each day of the week! Spending time with folks who are tasting their wine is a highlight for all the McKahn family. Personal feedback is the best part of the business for this family. Not surprisingly, their growing wine club membership speaks volumes of praise for their wine making abilities. Excitement and loyalty are a part of every wine club member’s wish to join their delightful club.
Having had the opportunity to work in the wine business in three different family run wineries and one corporate winery, Chuck appreciates the vast differences in these two types of entities. Family run wineries feel as if they have a soul that is a part of the families that create and run them. They go the extra mile each and every day to improve their wine, their customer service, their business practices, etc. Their collective McKahn family stewardship has a flavor that imbues their wine with their family’s soul.
Winemaker’s Perspective on Wine Industry –
Every winemaker or producer will agree that the wine market is a bit crowded. Building a loyal following is a challenge. Earning major awards and recognition does help with name recognition to inspire consumers to seek them out. Chuck McKahn’s wines have won lots of awards since their founding in 2014.
In 2016, the McKahn’s switched their varietal focus to Rhone. A wine should be true to a varietal’s character in this winemaker’s perspective. Rhone wine should have a savory complexity that smell like a fine charcuterie with dried fruit accouterments.
Still, a skilled winemaker has a vision and love for many varietals. Syrah has been Chuck’s favorite since college. It has a great history in the Northern Rhone, has been blended in the Burgundy region for a millennium, and is outstanding in the New World wines of California and Australia. You can’t make good Cabernet in Pinot Noir country, and vice versa, but you can make good Syrah in both climates. To a winemaker’s perspective, that is diversity.
McKahn Family Cellers Changes & Challenges –
American consumers are changing. Wine perspectives and knowledge are growing beyond the typical “Big 5” varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. This is an exciting change! Palates are shifting to becoming more adventurous and appreciating different varietals such as McKahn’s Rhone. Interestingly, Chuck’s winemaking friends are now creating lovely “other varietal” wines under their own personal labels that are sought after as well.
California blends seem to be much more than a New World “wine fad.” They are showing a staying power in the marketplace due to their pairing versatility and inherent adventurous natures. “Morning Glass” is the McKahn family’s newly added exceptionally smooth blend of Grenache, Petite Syrah and Syrah from Amador County. Referring to some of the family’s favorite lake vacation memories of the water at dawn, the name is a perfect representation of what you taste with this McKahn Family Cellars blend.
September brings the grand introduction of McKahn Family Cellars’ newest addition, their first Livermore wine. Their whole family team is excited to share their new Petite Syrah. With Petite Syrah being a heritage grape for Livermore this is a much anticipated addition to their winery’s tasting room. Because of all of these exciting changes are accompanied by their winery staff numbers growing. Alyssa Bird is being added to their staff to assist Chuck’s delightful mom , Denise.
Wine World’s Changes & Challenges –
As we all know, no business is without it’s challenges. Wine is no different.
Chuck clearly sees that climate change is a major challenge to the wine industry as it changes the growing conditions worldwide. In June, he attended a climate seminar and worries that in fifty years our varietal landscape will be completely different because of these challenges. For that reason what grows here in California or any other wine region now, will not as our temperatures continue to warm. Understandably, this is a huge area of concern.
More immediately, prices of all the necessary composite parts of wine continue to increase with inflation like most areas of our economy. To combat this upward price pressure, production innovation and streamlining of sales are imperative. This winemaker’s perspective is that the internet may be what helps sales streamline. However, he feels agriculturally the wine industry is woefully behind when it comes to production technology.
The McKahn’s strong family team are determined to surmount these challenges as they work to create and share terrific wines in the California wine industry. In four short years, their name is synonymous with award winning quality and their winery is well regarded as a good neighbor in their community. In our opinion, they have what it takes to become a lasting family legacy
Exporter’s Prospective of McKahn Family Cellars Wines –
Claire Logsdon has had the privilege of sharing McKahn family wines in tastings around the world and here in America with international buyers. Immediately, the feedback she has received on numerous occasions is that they particularly appreciate the family’s beautiful wine label that matches the flavors of their wines. In particular, the Korean market has shown an appreciation of these lovely wines.
CKJY Exports is very particular with whom we allow to distribute our wines overseas. Finding the correct international market fit for our wineries dedication and efforts abroad matters. Hence, showcasing and marketing our winemakers efforts appropriately matters.
If you feel you would like to discuss marketing the McKahn Family Cellars labels in your fine restaurant, hotel or wine shop, please contact us. We would appreciate the opportunity to explore this possibility with you further.
Born a Southern girl, I was transplanted a few times as a Navy wife! Now, our “retired” USN family, calls CA home. As UNC business school grad, I gained lots of useful insights by finding different opportunities and challenges along our military life’s path. Love of traveling, making friends, experiencing other cultures and sharing the best of all that with everyone are now all part of me.