The Tasting Panel magazine

Oct 09

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Page 60 of 92

Old Brand, New Brandy T he Korbel story begins in Bohemia, when young, charismatic freedom fi ghter Fran- cis Korbel was imprisoned for participat- ing in the Revolution of 1848. He later escaped in perhaps the most casual getaway in penal history—by strolling through an open gate while smoking a cigar. Later, Korbel and two of his brothers emigrated to the United States and seemed to devote themselves to creating eclec- tic resumés; highlights included cigar-making (and, more improbably, "cigar box repair"), a stint as lumber barons and, fi nally, winemaking and distilling. By century's end, Francis Korbel had pro- duced an award-winning brandy, and Korbel's present-day Master Distiller, Paul Ahvenainen, continues to do so today. "We are still true California brandy," says Ahvenainen. "All of the grapes and wine are sourced, 100 percent, from California. That's not true of everybody; there's a lot of excess wine around the world, and some of it ends up in compulsory distillation programs, which might end up in your gas tank or your brandy bottle. That's not our modus operandi." Ahvenainen is passionate about his work, which, he reminds us, is no mere byproduct of the winemaking process. He begins with Korbel wines made predominately from white grapes such as French Colombard and Chenin Blanc, as well as red varieties such as Barbera and Zin- fandel. The result is Korbel's current triumvirate of handcrafted brandies: Korbel Brandy (usually referred to as "the Classic"), the V.S.O.P. Gold Reserve and the XS. "That's the key to this whole thing—if you put garbage in you get garbage out. You take good raw materials, you take grapes and make wine and follow quality protocols and you can make a good brandy. There are no shortcuts," admonishes Ahvenainen with a smile. "We take grapes, make wine; we distill that wine in our own still at our own distillery, put that in our own oak barrels and bottle it. It's all done by us, in our facilities." In fact, Korbel is the only major maker of brandy at which the entire process is conducted as a single business. The distillation is con- ducted in DiGiorgio, California, a small rural town near Bakersfi eld that boasts whimsical street names like Weedpatch and Sheepdip Av- enue. From there, the brandy is shipped up to Korbel's wine country location in Guerneville, Sonoma County, for blending and bottling. Though Ahvenainen's brandies share com- mon DNA, each has a distinct fl avor profi le. The Classic lives up to its name with an array of butterscotch and vanilla fl avors underscored by dried cherry, hints of cranberry and whiff of Korbel has a long tradition of fi ne brandies. Today, the portfolio consists of Korbel V.S.O.P., Korbel XS and Korbel "Classic."

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