Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn begin farming near Philo in the Anderson Valley in northern California in 1974. After running a successful stereo business in the East Bay, they decided to pursue their passion and bought 900-plus acres of land from the Callahan family that stretched high into the hills. Unlike the Callahans who added sheep, Ted and Deborah replaced the flock of 900 they inherited with the land with grape vines. Long fanciers of Alsatian wines, Gewürztraminer was one of the first things they set to work to produce and it remains their flagship grape to this day!
Wine is of course, Navarro’s major focus. But this vinegar—made nearly twenty years ago but that just arrived to us this spring—is pretty special too. It happened sort of as an accident: “In 1995, we had severe shatter [a failure of the fruit to mature after flowing] in all our Gewürztraminer and could only produce a third of the wine that we needed for sales to existing customers,” Ted said. “Fortunately, that was followed by a good crop in 1996; the estate-grown grapes were picked in mid-September at about 24 Brix (sugar) with good acidity and lively fruit; the wine produced was a Gold Medal winner.”
“We were so unhappy turning customers away,” he went on, “that when we were out of our 1995 vintage, we decided to produce and bottle an extra 1,000 cases in 1996 and release it early to cover the shortfall. But since the next three vintages produced a normal Gewürz crop we didn’t sell all that we bottled.” They were left with about 200 cases of Gewurztraminer and another excellent new crop coming in on top of it, “so we decided to make vinegar out of the excess wine around 2001. We converted a dozen French oak barrels into vinegar fermentors and used the traditional Orleans process. We uncorked the remaining ‘96 wine into the fermentors and added a vinegar mother to each fermentor. After many months, we ‘filtered’ the vinegar (to remove any mother) from the fermentors and racked it into French oak Barrels to age.”
I happened across the vinegar at the farmer’s market stand of the nice folks at Pennyroyal cheese when I was out west in Healdsburg last fall. I liked it immediately. Bought a bottle and brought it home and liked it even more still. Figured out how to buy up a good bit of the very limited stock the Navarro folks had left and now, it’s here! Traditionally made Gewürztraminer vinegar from an award winning winery aged for fifteen years is not something one comes across every day. Nor are we likely see something like this again—best I can tell the vinegar was made as a one time project by the Navarro folks, which makes me all the happier to have it here!