Page 1 of 7
Winery Entrepreneur Restores Site History, Seeks to Elevate Alexander Valley
— An Interview with the Proprietor of Blue Rock Vineyard —
The surface of Alexander Valley's utmost potential as a wine region has barely been scratched. At least that's the belief of a small cadre of local producers dedicated to crafting premium Bordeaux varietal wines — of whom one is particularly adamant in his determination to help realize that promise. Kenneth Kahn, proprietor of Blue Rock Vineyard, while doing his own part to prove what this Sonoma appellation is truly capable of, is hoping that the efforts of its quality-driven producers will help to bring a new level of recognition to this region. With a respectful nod to the mid-priced wines that first earned the area media attention, Kahn nevertheless remains committed and driven to pushing the limit of its possibilities in an effort to demonstrate that Alexander Valley is capable of accomplishing so much more. I sat down with this bold entrepreneur to learn more about his vision for this wine region and how his brand Blue Rock fits into it.
As is typical of many winegrowing valleys, the hillsides are particularly noteworthy for their tendency to cultivate vines that bear high quality fruit. Though there are several reasons for this, in the case of the site on which Blue Rock Vineyard lies, there is a unique geological one: the soil's prevalence of serpentine rock. High in magnesium and therefore prominently blue in color, it served to inspire the name of Kahn's wine brand. More importantly, by virtue of its low moisture and nutritional content, the serpentine soil forces the vines to struggle and therefore focus on producing grapes of remarkable aromatics and concentration of fruit flavor. The properties of this soil, combined with Kahn's unwavering dedication to invest in the most stringent and, at times, experimental viticultural techniques, have allowed him to produce ultra premium Bordeaux varietal wines in a region not well known for that style. He spoke candidly not only of the risks he has taken in realizing his dream, but also of how doing so has helped him grow considerably both as a wine producer and as a human being.
NM: What was your inspiration for starting a business in the wine industry?
"Making wine, I understand what goes into the process and I know the technologies, but I don't let that get in the way of actually enjoying wines."
KK: I really got into the business because I loved wine as a consumer. In the early '80s, when I was in Memphis, I had a neighbor, an older man named Milton Picard. 'Pic,' as we called him, had been collecting Bordeaux and great California wine since the '30s. His collection of wines got to the point where he couldn't drink them all, so he had the choice to either sell them or drink them with other people. So, after he sort of tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to learn about wine, we would go over to his house and he'd pull out First Growth Bordeaux from the 1930s, '40s, '50s, '60s, and '70s. Some of them, I swear to you, had $2 price tags on them! And through that, he really turned me on to great wine. Right about the same time, my wife and I starting taking cooking classes together (although she was already a great cook). And it all just came together: the food, the wine, the lifestyle. Plus, I love design and my wife is a painter. Now, today, as a consumer, I still love wine. Making wine, I understand what goes into the process and I know the technologies, but I don't let that get in the way of actually enjoying wines. I have a cellar that's not a collector's cellar, it's a drinker's cellar: I'll buy off-vintages of Bordeaux, like 2004, because I'm going to drink them, not give them to my kids. I've also been drinking a lot of Italian wines, and really learning about Barolos and Barbarescos. Of course, I love California wines, but I drink much less California Cabernet than anything else, because I'm making it. I will drink it because I want to know what my peers are doing.