This month’s premium release features Okei San, our premium Syrah. It is named in honor of Okei Ito, the first person of Japanese descent to be buried on America soil, right near the back of our vineyard. Our Tasting Room Manager Rod, recounts this story daily to our visitors and here in his own words he shares it with you…
“In late 1869 the effects of a prolonged drought led to the failure of the first Japanese settlement in the United States – the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony in Gold Hill. To further complicate the situation, the Colony lost its financial backing from its benefactor in Japan and the Colonists soon dispersed to fend for themselves. Some went to work serving the waning gold mining industry on the American River, while many became laborers on surrounding farms. One property, owned by the Veerkamps, sat at the juncture of what is now Gold Hill Road and Cold Springs Road and within walking distance of Wakamatsu. The Veerkamps took in a couple of the colonists, including a young 17 year old girl by the name of Okei Ito. She became nanny to the Veerkamps’ children.
According to Veerkamp family legend, Okei frequently returned to the Wakamatsu property and climbed the hillside to face westward towards the setting sun and her homeland. Clearly she was lonely and homesick. In 1871, at the age of 19, Okei or Okei-san, as she was lovingly called, contracted a “fever.” Some reports say it was malaria, others tuberculosis. Regardless, the illness led to her death. The Veerkamps returned her body to the Wakamatsu property, to her favorite hillside underneath a stand of oak trees where she was buried. Her grave remains there to this day.
Several years ago, David Girard Vineyards chose to produce a flagship Syrah in Okei Ito’s memory known simply as Okei-San. We hope you enjoy the 2012 vintage and remember with us the life of this young “Stranger in a Strange Land.” As long as we produce Okei San, we pour Okei San, and we tell the Okei San story – we believe after 143 years, Okei Ito still wanders the hills, valleys and vineyards of Gold Hill and Coloma.”
For the 2012 vintage of Okei San, we have a paradigm shift: it’s Estate Bottled, from grapes planted on land that was likely part of the Wakamatsu Colony at one time. To date, the wine has been produced from a plot of grapes we lease at the Fenaughty Vineyard in Apple Hill, but we had always hoped – to bring more meaning to the tribute – that an Estate Syrah would live up to the prestige and precedent that the wine has so far set. While tasting last winter, Mari and I found a single barrel of Estate Syrah that blew us away by somehow offering both restraint and power, and varietal as well as site-derived flavors and aromas. A core of violets and dark fruit aromas weave with wilder scents of smoky meat; sweeter fruit comes forward in the mouth with impressive concentration and a lasting finish. The catch: it was just one barrel! We’ll have at least one bottle for everyone in our Premium Wine Club, but not many more….