Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

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Joseph Stevens
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Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#1 Post by Joseph Stevens »

Just got this email from Travis & Mario:


Dear Friends of Kobayashi,

This is not a first-come first-serve wine release, so there’s no need to skip to the bottom to order immediately. Given the small quantities of wine being offered here, I did my best to keep this letter short.

A key part of what we do at Kobayashi Winery centers on imagining how to make our wines interesting and better from year to year. Along those lines, the wine in this offer is totally new to the world. The idea took several years of planning to enact and see to fruition, so I'm thrilled that it is finally making its way to your glass.

2019 Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc

I first had the idea to age a wine in Japanese Mizunara Oak in 2013, and shortly thereafter figured out why it is not done. Mizunara Oak (species Quercus Crispula) is extremely expensive, difficult to work with, and the barrels are prone to leaking. The trees don't grow straight and must be over 200 years old to harvest, and even then only 10% is suitable for barrel staves (compared to 45% for American oak). The positive and desirable impact on Japanese whiskey is well known and now highly sought after even in Scotland where finishing Scotch in Mizunara casks has become popular (Bowmore is a great example). Although barrels for whisky are toasted to an extreme degree—sometimes even called 'alligator skin' because the wood is so charred its surface changes texture—our new barrel was lightly toasted. The popularity of Mizunara coupled with limited supply due in part to conservation concerns (the Japanese government periodically halts its distribution), means that there is a long line of whiskey producers waiting for casks. The resulting extremely high prices for barrels made it seem that I would never be able to try this experiment.

No matter how many times logic and reality cut down the idea, it had already grown roots and I couldn't shake it. After years of keeping it on the back burner, I was talking to Mario about her Kobayashi family crest (which you see on our bottles). She mentioned that the image is an Oak Leaf—how was it possible that I did not know that? I felt like the universe hit me with a thunderbolt; the roots of a crazy and unrealizable idea became unshakable and I began acting as if it were a necessity. Now I HAD to get a Mizunara barrel. Mario wrote a thoughtful letter (in Japanese of course) to the cooper explaining our winemaking philosophy and desire to get (read: cut) in line for Mizunara. When our turn came they said they would only make us a new barrel if we agreed to ship it by Air and not Sea—ouch! As far as I know, Kobayashi is the first winery in the US to import a Mizunara cask, and almost certainly the only one to do so freighted by air. The staves are so thick and the barrel is so heavy that everyone at the winery nicknamed it Noah's Ark. The coopers had also filled the barrel with water and patched leaks, which none of us had ever heard of being done. The empty barrel smelled so good and unique that we allowed our hopes and optimism to grow without restraint.

I know I am prone to excitement, but generally not superstition. Perhaps I just needed a nudge to buy the crazily expensive cask, but I had attributed to the entire process a greater meaning vis-à-vis the Oak Leaf on Mario’s Kobayashi family crest. However, this sign, which I thought came from the universe, was not real—I heard what I wanted to hear and deceived myself. As it turns out, Mario's Kobayashi family crest is an Oak Leaf from a species totally unrelated to Mizunara. I found this out when the barrel was on its way—and thankfully by then there was no turning back!

Finding the right wine to put in the barrel was not difficult. For our first few vintages at Kobayashi, we only made Cab Franc. I love how it is a chameleon that can be so different depending on where and how it is grown and how it is made. Because I love underdogs and exceeding expectations, I appreciate how some view Cab Franc as an inferior 'blending' grape. I also love the distinctive, signature herbal streak that cuts straight to my heart. To get this into the barrel, I knew that I could rely on Ryan Johnson and Cam Myhrvold at WeatherEye Vineyard, who are doing some of the most exciting vineyard work in the USA and I'm continually astounded by the quality of fruit they produce. The north facing aspect WeatherEye Cab Franc fruit came into our winery as perfect as can be. It had delicious and beautiful tiny berries, excellent flavors, and chemistry to match so no water or acid additions were necessary. Native primary and secondary fermentations produced some of the best perfume I've ever experienced in a wine. To keep this intact, the wine was never racked until bottling and wasn't fined or filtered. It just didn’t need it; everything was perfect from day one.

I have come to appreciate my fabricated omniscient push, because the wine turned out better than I could have imagined. Aromas of Japanese incense, sandalwood, cedar forest, earthy, and a dark core of black raspberry, boysenberry, and dark cherries come to meet you instantly. The north facing aspect allowed the fruit to maintain radiant acidity and the wine has a finish that lasts for over a minute. The Mizunara does not offer the aromas typically associated with American or French oak, but you can feel its presence as effortless structure on the palate, which tells me this wine will provide enjoyment for decades. It is really a must try wine, wholly singular in nature globally and throughout history, with layers of complexity that are more than unique. This wine wasn't simply 'finished' in Mizunara, it was born, raised, and will be integrating the Mizunara into its flesh and bones for years to come. Every time I tasted the wine through barrel maturation until now, including the single bottle that has been uncorked, the wine had not only gotten better, but it had evolved and been repeatedly different. There is so much complexity packed into this wine that it will undoubtedly unfold into something differently beautiful each year that it’s aged. Even the empty glass after this wine has been in it smells fantastic—like fresh cut herbs, sage, and peppermint. It is the best wine Kobayashi has ever made, and I don't have the words to describe how excited I am about its future.

Now, a few thoughts about pricing... Even though our costs have increased significantly over the years, we have not raised our prices since our inaugural 2014 vintage, and rest assured we are not planning to raise prices in our fall release in 2021. At $55 for whites and $75 for reds, our wines are meant to provide you with sensory and sharing experiences that leave you feeling like you’ve got an incredible value for the level of quality. This Mizunara Cab Franc is unique, delicious, and unfortunately extremely limited. We were able to produce only 262 two-bottle sets (in numbered and branded wood boxes) and they are $450 per set of two. We have a few magnums at the same price as well for those who enjoy larger format bottles.

This is a special wine that I realize is not for everyone. As such, I’d like to assure you that your decision to purchase this wine will not affect your allocation of our fall release wines.

To order, simply respond to this email within 5 days (by April 2nd) with your specified number of two-bottle boxed sets you would like (minimum order is one two-bottle set or magnum at $450, but you can request more than one). As always, Mario will sort out the requests and send you a square invoice. We will have drive-through, touchless pick-up available in Woodinville on April 10th and 11th. Let us know if you can't make those pick up dates—local delivery or shipping in the US is $25 if you’d prefer. We have another version in a new Mizunara cask for 2020, and plan to continue production at this level, but would emphasize that it will not be possible to sell more bottles for at least a few years.

We greatly appreciate your support and participation in our journey to create the most interesting wines in Washington, and we know that it would not be possible without you. Our wines are improving every year and we look forward to pouring them in your glass. We are feeling optimistic that we'll be able to resume our release party tradition in late 2021.

Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.


I’m very curious about this, and the notes Travis has written are really tempting me to break my budget a bit!

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Mark Y
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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#2 Post by Mark Y »

Tried a barrel sample.. it was pretty interesting on the nose, the mizunara is subtle but adds a lot of complexity. Love the envelope pushing by Travis in WA wines.

Got one to bury for a while.. i think this is definitely not an early drinking wine.
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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#3 Post by Ryan Gilmour »

Love everything Travis does and this sounds super cool. The price tag is clearly validated by what it cost them to produce and the packaging is gorgeous too, but I'm really trying to cut back. This will be a game time decision for me...

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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#4 Post by jeffruggels »

in the camp of loving how Travis follows his passion and takes risks

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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#5 Post by Matt N »

This is fascinating to me... ugh - Things like this are why I fail so badly at buying hiatuses...
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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#6 Post by EricJ »

My case arrived yesterday... my eleven year old already claimed the OWC as a decoration. Awesome looking set, kind of regret not trying to buy two.
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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#7 Post by jeffruggels »

Eric - i'll bet you can get a second if you ask

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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#8 Post by Jörgen Lindström Carlvik »

Very, very cool! Never heard of in wine before.
ITB. www.brixwine.se

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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#9 Post by larry schaffer »

Curious to hear what the cost was for that barrel - with and without shipping . . .

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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#10 Post by EricJ »

jeffruggels wrote: May 8th, 2021, 9:53 am Eric - i'll bet you can get a second if you ask
You are right, they do have a few left.
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Re: Kobayashi Mizunara Cabernet Franc Release

#11 Post by Gary Schulte »

larry schaffer wrote: May 8th, 2021, 3:42 pm Curious to hear what the cost was for that barrel - with and without shipping . . .

Cheers
From Wine Enthusiast .......... "During these times, the available wood is sold at public auctions. The huge demand can cause prices to skyrocket. A single cask now costs more than $6,000. "

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