So life's year begins and closes;
Days though shortening still can shine;
What though youth gave love and roses;
Age still leaves us friends and wine." …… Thomas Moore

Have you ever become bedazzled by a new acquaintance, perhaps someone with a little foreign mystery?  If you’re human enough to understand infatuation, perhaps you’re also honest enough to remember taking for granted an old friend during that infatuation. That’s why I was so happy to pour for Kenwood Vineyards in early September at Binny’s “Taste at the Track” and then visit the vineyard in October.  Everyone knows Kenwood. We’re old friends. But the world has become awash in wines from all over the globe. Pouring for Kenwood at the September event, and visiting the vineyard gave us a chance to re-bond, and it’s a friendship I’ll no longer take for granted.

Pat Henderson, Sr. Winemaker, shows me the grape sampling
from 5 vineyards and explains how to judge readiness for picking. 

I’m happy for that because Kenwood truly has been a loyal friend throughout; consistently producing superior wines at each price level.  Proof of that is in the vineyards’ history of collecting so many “Winery of the Year” medals for value. The winery offers nine white wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurz, Moscato and a sparkling wine. The red list contains Pinot Noirs, Merlots, Zins and Cabs equaling nine more. Two whites (a Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay) comprise a separate offering of “Reserve Wines.” This is matched by an additional offering of “Reserve Reds” that include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zin and Cabernet Sauvignons. Prices range from $6 retail to $75, with substantial discounts for club members.
In the lab checking the brix

I visited the winery later in the day, and the October weather was just a little cool; enough to drive up my taste for reds. I enjoyed a 2009 Sonoma County Merlot ($12 - $14 retail) and happily sipped raspberry and plum with notes of chocolate and oak in a medium-rich mouth feel with soft tannins and a balanced finish.  The wine is aged for 20 months in French and American oak. I’m still amazed that such a quality is available at such a price.

Still in Merlot, I tasted the 2009 Jack London label. It spends two additional months in oak.  Grapes for this series are from vineyards exclusively leased by Kenwood and located above the fog belt in the Sonoma Valley. Cool nights assure long hang time and fruit that develops intensity.  The wine is more structured and offers additional notes of plum and fig with a hint of licorice. Value speaks for itself with retail prices averaging $20-$22.

A look into Kenwood's Library, seldom opened. My thanks to
"Hutch" (Tour Guide Extraordinaire).
Another branch on the merlot tree can be enjoyed with Kenwood’s 2009 Reserve Merlot. Unlike the two above, which contain 4% and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon respectively, the reserve is 100% merlot. As with the other wines it is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to develop fruit. The reserve then ages for 21 months in 100% French oak to develop a rich profile that provides raspberry, plum and white pepper. It’s priced the same as the Jack London.

Sonoma County Merlot & Cab
Jack London
Tasting wines in a laddered approach is fun. It also gives you an opportunity to better define and understand your palette’s preference. With Kenwood you can do that also with Cabernet Sauvignon.  Begin with Yulupa, move on to the Sonoma County label, continue with the Jack London and the Reserve label and even progress to the Artist Series.  At this last rung on the ladder, you will be enjoying limited production wine from dry farmed vineyards. Two vintages are available: 2006 and 2007. In either vintage, the wine is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, ranging from 78% in 2006 to 93% in 2007. But in either year, the juice is made from a small and very select percentage of their choicest grapes. The juice is fermented and aged by vineyard. The finished wines are settled, racked twice and aged in select barrels. For 2006, the barrels chosen were 88% French/12% American oak. Winemaker Patrick Henderson used barrels of 82% French/18% American for the 2007 vintage. Both vintages were aged for twenty eight months in wood, with the best lots then being selected for flavor, balance and ageability before being blended.  Each vintage was further personalized in  blending to develop the wine’s potential to its fullest. So in 2006, the blend included 9% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petite Verdot.  For 2007, the Malbec was reduced to 4% and 3% Merlot was added. After bottling, both vintages enjoyed a year and a half of bottle aging before release.  This is seriously good wine. And at $75 ($56.25 club price) it is an exceptional value as a special occasion or gift wine.  Drink now, but know that you can age these wines a decade – if you can wait that long.
"Cheers!" (The Mizer)

2007 Artist Series
No single review can include all of Kenwood’s wines, and I don’t mean to ignore their whites. Suffice to say that in April of this year, Kenwood Vineyards captured two awards of only ten wines to be awarded in the 2012 Pacific Coast “Oyster Wine Competition.”  A total of 101 wines from various wineries were entered. Kenwood’s 2011 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc and 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris were awarded in the same year; their Sauvignon Blanc having been awarded seven times in the competition’s 18 year history. (It generally retails for about $10!). The2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris (a.k.a. Pinot Grigio) was rated 91 points by Wine Enthusiasts and “Best Pinot Gris”/Double Gold at the San Francisco Wine Competition in June of 2012.

For “everyday” or “special occasion/gift wine,” and whatever your budget, Kenwood offers wines at each price point that offer exceptional value.  In an economy where “box wines” are getting attention, value is often taken to simply mean low price. Fortunately for lovers of good wine, Kenwood has never confused the issue. Whether it’s a wine labeled as a Sonoma County or an Artist Series, the juice inside the bottle will be hard to match for quality and taste.
………………….. Jim

* Visit for mini-tips on wine & food

Kenwood Vineyards
9592 Sonoma Hwy
Kenwood, CA 95452-0447

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