by Fred McMillin
for April 12, 1999


No Deadwood At Kenwood


"We had to fight tooth and nail with other wineries to get our Sauvignon Blanc from the same vineyards as last year."

...Martin Lee, Kenwood V.P, Wine Spectator, 1996

The Rest of the Story

Now, we can see why one might fight for the coveted Chardonnay grapes, but why the less popular Sauvignon Blanc? The answer: Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc is NOT "less popular." In fact, it is their biggest seller. Marty and Mike Lee, along with brother-in-law John Sheela, founded Kenwood in 1970. They hoped some day to produce 50,000 cases. Today Sauvignon Blanc sales alone top 70,000 cases!

Kenwood Vineyard

A Kenwood vineyard in the Sonoma Valley, where vines have grown for over a century.

Kenwood Doesn't Fire Blancs

The first Blanc vintage was 1980. My 1988 notes show grapes came from warmer central Sonoma County (melon flavors) and the cool Carneros (crisp herbs). Part was held in stainless steel, part aged in large French oak upright tanks, and part in small French oak barrels. Stainless preserves the fruit flavors, the oak adds richness and smoothness.

My panel just tasted the 1997, and Kenwood is still making it the same way...grape sources ranging from the warm Alexander Valley to cold Carneros...stainless, uprights, and barrels all remain in the act. The price range is only $10... I checked back for six months and we've not had a similarly-priced rival come even close in quality.

Wine of the Day

1997 Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County
Kenwood Vineyards, Kenwood, Sonoma Valley, CA.
Tasting Notes—Happily, it's pretty easy to detect the delicate herb-grass contribution of the cold-grown grapes, the light spice from restrained oak, etc.
Rating—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED in its price range.
Contact—Margie Healy's office, (707) 824-7715.
Food Affinities—Oysters, oysters, oysters. The wine has twice been a winner in the Annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition (over 140 competitors in the last tasting).
Price—$10 range.


About the modest start of Kenwood, the Wine Spectator also reported that the two remaining founding owners, John Sheela and Mike Lee, had sold their interest for $50 million. I guess that's part of the penalty for overshooting the 50,000 case production goal. Sales now exceed 300,000!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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