Review: Kenefick Ranch Winery – Calistoga, CA

Official Review by The Traveling Winers

Back in September, we published a review on a book called The Perfect Score. There was a specific concept brought up in this book that, since we are not from the Napa Valley area, was new to us, but with some thought, made perfect sense. It is a concept that has to do with supply and demand – in the wine industry. We’re sure you have heard this story a hundred times before. A young adult graduates from college seeking their first full-time position in their learned career. While pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, they hear the same reply over and over again, “We’re looking for someone with more experience”. And, of course, you know the response, “How am I supposed to get that experience if no one will hire me!” Well, as it turns out, at least in the famous winemaking areas of Napa, Sonoma and the surrounding areas, the challenge is the same. Let us paint you the picture.

Suppose you have a new winemaker who strives to make world-class wines and believes to his core that remarkable wines start in the vineyard. Unable to contain his optimism and excitement, he sets out to obtain, what he considers, the very best grapes available. Inquiry after inquiry yields the same question to the new winemaker, “What is your label?”, meaning “What are your successes?” His response, of course, can only be, “I don’t have one yet. That’s why I need your grapes.” Disappointed, he is turned away because he does not yet have the success under his belt to purchase these high-demand grapes and be on the grower’s prestigious customer list. This scenario happened initially to the Halls and was recounted in The Perfect Score. Some may be thinking “Wow, how pretentious!” or “That’s so unfair!”, but we disagree. This is simply a sign of a very successful industry that has risen to the top of consumer markets where name recognition is important. It is a sign of a quality and the demand for that quality. It is a sign of success. And so the story begins for Kenefick Ranch – a vineyard with a stellar reputation and a source of fruit to some of the top producers.

Lay down the scalpel, pick up the hoe

Just as Dr. Tom Kenefick tended to the human body for decades as a successful neurosurgeon in the San Francisco area, he now tends to over 125 acres of grape vines in Calistoga, California, nestled throughout his 250-acre ranch. Escaping from the hustle and bustle of big city life, Dr. Tom began to visit Napa Valley in 1970, only to find himself falling in love with the area and becoming a weekend resident after purchasing the ranch some eight years later. Dr. Tom said “I must have had a great guardian angel. I didn’t know enough about viticulture at that point to make such a good decision.” But he learned very quickly, after throwing himself into night viticulture classes, that a great decision it was.

Winemaker, Kent Jarman, and Dr. Tom Kenefick

As it turns out, the land bears several conditions favorable to playing host to a high-quality vineyard. The Calistoga AVA consists of valley floors rich with volcanic soils varying between 3-4 compositional make-ups, allowing for varied fruit characteristics. The floor is surrounded on one side by the Vaca mountains and the other side the Mayacamas mountains, providing cooling breezes that give the grapes respite from the daytime heat. In addition, the Pacific Ocean also contributes with its afternoon and evening breeze mixing with the warm air and cooling the valley floor. All in all, the Calistoga AVA, with its two distinct microclimates and varied soil types, make for an optimal grape-growing region.

For years, Kenefick Ranch farmed the vineyards with the sole purpose of selling their fruit to nearby wineries. But then in 2000, Dr. Tom retired from medicine and began working the vineyards full-time and producing his own wine using the best 10% of the crop. Led by winemaker Kent Jarman, they produce their wines at the custom crush facility Fairwinds and provide tastings at the Fairwinds Estate Winery Tasting Room – a very intimate setting that we very much enjoyed.

They continue to sell about 90% of their crop to prestigious vintners such as Caymus, Nickle and Nickle, Elizabeth Spencer, Cade, and Eisele Vineyard – just to name a few.

Their wines

We spent our time at Kenefick Ranch visiting with (past) Director of Sales & Hospitality, Patrick Chapman, and Vice President of Sales, Chris Kenefick, son of Dr. Tom. What struck us the most during our visit was the sense of pride and dedication that was shown by these two men regarding the land, the environment, the vines and the fruit. Yet, when it came to their wine, it was as if they didn’t push its excellence, but let the wine speak for itself. Knowing that “it all starts in the vineyard” and having the confidence that their fruit is among the best when you combine that with a talented winemaker, which they have in  Kent Jarman, you can simply sit back, keep quiet and listen to the wine speak.

2014 Pickett Road White – (70% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, 5% Viognier; $24) Kenefick’s claim is that this is “Possibly the best food wine on the planet” meaning that it seems to go with just about anything. The winemaker notices an aroma of Kaffir lime and anise and on the palate detects orange blossom and lemon meringue. Oh, so technical! 🙂 The first thing that Miki noticed was cinnamon! What a nose, huh?

2014 Sauvignon Blanc – ($24) A nice balance of crispness and acidity, but not overdone, smelling of grapefruit and tasting hints of lemon and white peach. The perfect wine for sipping by the pool in the summer heat.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Chris’s Cuvee – (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec; $65) This one was fun. Sitting at the table and tasting this wine with its namesake. The first vintage of Chris’s Cuvee was produced before Chris was even allowed to drink; he was 19 and a freshman in college. He now can partake of the juice and has his signature on the label. The nose boasts cherry, currants and vanilla spice while the palate shows berries, medium tannins and a lingering finish. Very nice.

In the words of wine critic Robert Parker, “these Kenefick Ranch wines merit serious attention. Moreover, their prices make them good bargains given their lofty quality”. Well said, Mr. Parker.

Tom Joe
“Hops ‘r Better” Winer

In spite of his short tenure, Patrick “knew his stuff” about the history and details of winemaking at Kenefick Ranch. He did a wonderful job at guiding us through each wine (except the ONE that he messed up on the percentages – but quickly corrected himself 🙂 ) and was thoroughly enjoyable.

“Hippie” Winer

Shared the Picket Road Red with the ‘gang of four’.  What a great wine.  Fresh and fruity without losing itself in the orchard, you know?  I thought Brian was going to burst into ‘Red, Red Wine’ while we were tasting.  Made me wish we had more than one to drink!

“This Is The Life” Winer

Although unable to see and touch the vineyard, its presence is felt through the pictures on the walls and in the glass at your fingertips. Lovely wines from some very down to earth and lovely people.

“Timeless” Winer

NOW we’re talking wine.  We shared the Picket Road Red and it was just delightful.  Full and rich without being heavy.  Clear and clean to the eye.  I would cheerfully have slipped off with the entire bottle and stiffed my friends.  Just an excellent wine.



The Winer’s Experience

Simple sophistication, a presence of quality but without the pretense. The tasting room is very comfortable and displays pictures of the very vineyards, just down the road a ways, where the Kenefick Ranch folks plant, grow and harvest their grapes. Casual elegance, anyone would feel comfortable walking in. And with a patio out back, you could grab a glass of wine and stay a while. (This is at their old location.)
Go grab Patrick! You will be guided through the flights and learn how to appreciate each of the wines for its unique characteristics. Patrick and Chris demonstrated great customer service. Their passion for their brand shown through. In spades!  Patrick shared his wealth of knowledge about the industry and Kenefick, in general.

Vineyard & Winery Information

Kenefick Ranch
Tastings at Fairwinds Estate Winery
4550 Silverado Trail N, Calistoga, CA, 94515
Daily 11:30 – 4:30
info@kenefickranch  (707) 942-6175
No Yes $15/6 tastes
Call for appointment No, but can bring your own!


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