by Fred McMillin
for May 1, 1998

Winery of the Week

Kenwood's Jack London Connection


Prologue

The evolution of this humble board-and-batten winery, established by the Pagani family of Italy in 1905, and aquired by six enthusiastic winelovers from San Francisco in 1970, follows the penciled observations in Jack London's "Confessions": "The stairway of Time is ever echoing with the wooden shoe going up, the polished boot descending." The Pagani jug-wine aged in redwood is being transformed into Kenwood noble varietals finished in classic oak.

...1978, "California Wines," R.L. Balzer

Jack London's grand-nephew, Milo Shepard, was born on the Jack London Ranch in the "Valley of the Moon," the Indian name for the Sonoma Valley. Milo, manager of the 125-acre vineyard, says that "as long as I can remember, there were vineyards on the land," including gnarled old Zinfandel vines.

...1988, S.F. Examiner, Jim Wood

The Jack London Ranch Zinfandel grapes, sold exclusively to Kenwood, makes a wine of great distinction and power.

..."Wine Atlas of California," James Halliday


Kenwood Milestones

1900—Jack London publishes "The Son of the Wolf," the first of his 50 books.

1905—Julius Pagani, whose family has made wine for generations, arrives from Italy and establishes his modest winery in the Sonoma Valley.

1910—San Francisco-born Jack London, S.F. Examiner journalist and rising adventure novelist, buys a large tract for his ranch north of the Pagani Winery. Prior to such success, his odd jobs included that of "oyster pirate," robbing the nets of oyster fishermen at night and selling them early at market.

1970—Julius Pagani passes away and John Sheela, from a Central Valley grape-growing family, puts together a partnership that includes college roomate Marty Lee, and research chemist Dr. Bob Kozlowski, their first winemaker.

1976—Critic Pat Latimer writes that the new winery is enjoying "remarkable success." One of the keys is the Jack London Ranch vineyard, which grows not only Zin but half a dozen other varieties including outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon. 1995—The "remarkable success" continues, with the winery writing me that "there's been such a rush on our wines we've not had time to answer your inquiry. A very large order cleared out our Zinfandel inventory. Our single vineyard wines have been snapped up by the distributors. Needless to say, it's been an excellent year." And that's our story of moving from wooden shoes to polished boots.

Just The Facts

Name—Kenwood Vineyards
Location—Sonoma Valley, CA.
Winemaker—Michael Lee (excellent speaker, too)
Capacity—Over 200,000 cases a year
Vineyards—Over 100 acres of estate vines plus long-term contracts with several outstanding vineyards including the Jack London.
The Wines—A large selection led by the Jack London Zin and the Artist Series Cab.
Contact—Margie Healy, (707) 824-7715


Postscript

About that first winemaker, Dr. Bob Koslowski, I worked for him for five years. I've never seen him happier than the time the White House phoned to say they were going to serve his Dry Chenin Blanc at a State Dinner.


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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. 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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