Several weeks ago, with a group in our favorite little Mexican restaurant in North Fork, we ran across a wine we hadn’t tasted, from a local winery that we had forgotten about — Karine.
The name rang a bell but, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why, until Karen remembered having a bottle of their Syrah a couple of years back with our friend Stephanie. Our new-found wine buddies at the restaurant couldn’t say enough good things about the wine so, clearly, more investigation was needed. Oh, the burdens that we take on for our readers.
Karine Winery is the love and toil of a young couple, Nick and Angeline DeHart, and their almost-two-year-old assistant winemaker, Emmeline Karine DeHart — clearly the driving force behind the entire operation.
Nick grew up just down the road in Lemoore and Angeline was born and raised in Fresno. The couple met over beers at Fresno State where Nick was pursuing his degrees in Enology and Organic Chemistry and Angeline was getting her Masters in Special Education. Nick apprenticed in various areas in Europe such as Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, and Tuscany — earning an additional certificate in Switzerland. Fast-forward four years and the couple married in a vineyard.
Both Nick and Angeline have roots in grape farming. Nick’s grandfather grew bulk wine grapes in the Central Valley and Angeline’s family grew raisin grapes in the Fresno area so, somehow, it seemed inevitable that — after meeting over beer and being married in a vineyard — their life would gravitate to owning a winery.
Unlike most winemakers, however, Karine is a labor of love that they can indulge because Nick’s main job is consulting with a number of wineries, providing guidance for those who want to improve the quality of their wines.
Karine, after Angeline’s middle name (and now Emmeline’s), is a hobby and a passion for both rather than a necessity. This means that the DeHarts can experiment with various varieties and vineyards in a never-ending quest for the perfect, pure, unmanipulated wines. If Karine makes a wine that is good but still below their exacting standards, they won’t sell it under their label but will sell it to other wineries.
According to Angeline, “If it doesn’t knock your socks off, we won’t sell it.” I suspect most of Karine’s “failures” would be unmitigated successes for most wineries, so it doesn’t seem to be a problem moving the wines that they don’t want to release.
A big year’s production for Karine is around 300 cases. The DeHarts are not interested in greatly expanding their production, but would like the volume to increase just enough so that they can make their favorite wines every year instead of every second or third year.
Karine considers itself a “Garagiste” winery, a movement that is about experimentation and occasionally upsetting the status quo when tradition is holding back the quality of wines. The only qualification to joining the Garagiste movement is a willingness to think outside the box and the open-mindedness to not accept winemaking practices as religious doctrine that must be followed — even if there are better, more progressive techniques that produce better wines.
Like all good winemakers, Karine understands that wine starts in the vineyard and the best way to produce exceptional wines is to have exceptional wine grapes that need little or no manipulation by the winemaker. In true Garagiste fashion, Karine makes wines that you either “Love to Love” or “Love to Hate.”
We had planned on tasting with the Karine folks the weekend before at the site of their upcoming winery location just outside of North Fork, but Mother Nature threw us a curve by raining two weekends in a row. Great for a rain starved California — not so great for outside wine tasting. We were also up against a deadline due to the imminent arrival of Emmeline’s little sister.
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