A Passion for Pinot – A Taste of Kenwood Vineyards With Winemaker Pat Henderson

Kenwood Vineyards

“Sonoma doesn’t just mean great wine, it also embodies our way of life; hardworking but willing to take the time to relax and enjoy the best things in life.” – Pat Henderson – Lead Winemaker at Kenwood Vineyards

Kenwood Vineyards  has deep roots and history in Sonoma County.  The winery was founded in 1970, but it has a 112 year history that goes back to 1906 when the Pagani Brothers first starting producing bulk wines.  The landscape started to transform when John Sheela and his brothers-in-law Mike Lee and Marty Lee took over the winery.  They had a passion for great wines and brought innovative change not just to Kenwood, but to Sonoma County as well.  Along with their passion, they had a vision that changed the impression of Sonoma wines to come. They had two revolutionary ideas (at least revolutionary at the time for Sonoma), they wanted to create wines that paired well with food and they wanted to make premium handcrafted wines.  Not rocket science but it was revolutionary for Sonoma in the late 1960’s.  Mike Lee, the winemaker helped bring Sonoma to the forefront as an AVA. Though they produce large quantities of wine, Mike Lee was focused on producing small lot, high quality wines.

Today Kenwood is one of Sonoma’s most recognized brands, producing 500,000 cases of wine.  That is no small number, but the focus of the winery has been to grow their premium wines, creating exquisite wines of artisanal quality.  Great investments have been made in the winery, visitors center and tasting room.

Chat With Pat Henderson – Chief Winemaker

One of the best parts about being a wine writer in New York City is the wonderful array of wine professionals you meet.  I recently had the opportunity to meet with Pat from Kenwood Vineyards and was impressed to hear his story.  Our conversations were easy, humble and eye opening.  Pat had a natural way about him that immediately got your attention, it was very apparent that he makes wonderful wines and is very proud of them.

Kenwood Vineyards

Pat is a veteran winemaker with 35 vintages under his belt, very few are more experienced than him.  Pat started off with a brief background of himself.  He attended UC Davis in his twenties and at the suggestion of a mentor, he went to work harvest at Domaine Chandon.  He fell in love with the winemaking process and immediately decided that he wanted to pursue a career in wine.  Pat then went on to work in Napa and Sonoma ,and in 1983 worked at Kenwood as their oenologist.  Later he went onto Washington State to take on his first major role as head winemaker.  In 2003 he came back to Kenwood.  He came back to Sonoma under the apprenticeship of Mike Lee, who was to retire.  In 2015 Pat was appointed chief winemaker for Kenwood Vineyards.

Pat continued to talk about his winemaking philosophy.  He crafts wines of unique character  from Sonomas diverse landscapes, producing small lot wines with great attention to detail.  “Sonoma is about great wines, honest wines in a down to earth place.” When you have the passion and affinity for the land and the place, you can produce great wines.

Our conversations naturally led to Sonoma and the community.  Pat says Sonoma is a close knit community where they take care of each other.  During the fires, he called on a friend in Mendocino.  With roads closed and fires blazing nearby, Pat’s friend immediately helped out and pressed his fruits for him. The fires were telling times of how a community came together.  Pat has never been prouder to work for Kenwood Vineyards, than during the time of the fires.  The company gave its employees 2 days paid time off to help volunteer in the community, to help rebuild and revive Sonoma County. 

What made this tasting special was the focus on Kenwood’s Pinot Noirs. Pat’s love and passion for his Pinots was evident.  The wines are all picked at optimal times and then fermented and aged in separate lots.  The barrels are tasted by Pat and then hand selected to be blended or made into single vineyard small production wines.  Each of the wines had unique differences based on site, plots, and vineyards.  Drinking them side by side was a nice study on the impact of soil and climate.

Kenwood Vineyards

The Exceptional Pinot Noirs of Kenwood
Kenwood Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2016 (SRP – $22)

The grapes for this wine come from the celebrated Russian River Valley.  This AVA has exceptional terroir, soil and climate for producing world class Pinot Noir. Each plot is fermented and aged separately  so as to preserve the characteristics of the wine.  This is Kenwood’s entry level Pinot Noir and it is a wonderful wine that is medium bodied with delicate aromas and flavors.  The wine is fresh and bright with nice notes of cherries, and black fruit with a hint of spice.  This wine will pair perfectly with fig and mushroom pizza, herb roasted salmon, and chicken marsala.  I was impressed at the price point of this Pinot Noir, it drinks like a premium high quality wine.  It is a wine that is accessible, approachable and affordable.

Kenwood Six Ridges Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2016 (SRP – $30)

Six Ridges captures the uniqueness of Sonoma County’s best wine regions.  The name honors the mountain and ridges that  border their vineyards and influence the terroir. This is a small production wine that is handcrafted.  Pat says this is an appellation driven wine.  This wine is a little darker than the Sonoma Country Wine and a little more richer in style.  A delicious wine that has notes of strawberries, cherries and baking spice.  I was captured by the notes vanilla and nutmeg.  The wine has a generous rich mouthfeel with silky tannins.  Sic Ridges is an elegant wine that can be paired with a variety of foods.  Roasted pork with herbs, coq au vin, or a mix of mild cheeses would be wonderful pairings.

Kenwood Single Vineyards Olivet Pinot Noir 2015 (SRP – $34)

Olivet is a limited production wine that is produced from one the best vineyards of Sonoma Country. The vineyard is located in the heart of Sonoma County, Kenwood has been producing high quality Pinot Noir from this plot since 1990 and two decades later, it is still one of their best.  The site has goldridge sandy-loam soil and a cool and foggy climate that equate to the perfect terroir for this wine.  This single vineyard Pinot Noir is elegant and medium bodied with smooth tannins that lingering into its long finish.

Kenwood Single Vineyard Santa Nella Pinot Noir 2015 (SRP – $32)

The Santa Nella Ranch is located on the western edge of the Russian River Valley.  The proximity of the vineyard site to the coast make for a cool climate that is moderated by the southeast facing slopes.  The vineyards site has historic roots in Sonoma, it was first established in 1880, and produced one of the first Russian River Pinot Noirs in 1957.  The wine is aged 14 months in French Oak barrels.  The best barrels of the lot were tasted and hand selected by Pat, resulting in a wine with bright red fruits of cherries and raspberries.  There is a hint of earthy herbaceousness.  The wine is rich in texture with structured tannins. A food friendly wine that is delicate yet intense enough to stand up to grilled steaks and a robust pasta in a hearty red sauce.

Visit Kenwood Vineyards

After tasting through the four wines with wonderful food and conversations, Pat’s commitments, expertise and passion for winemaking was infectious and inspiring.  Kenwood Vineyards need to be added to your list of wines to explore, or wineries to visit in Sonoma.  Kenwood is a big production house with a dedicated commitment to a premium portfolio of signature wines.

Kenwood Vineyards
9592 Sonoma Highway,
Kenwood, CA 95452
Phone: (707) 282-4228

Kenwood Vineyards

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