Winery Lifestyle at Keenan Winery Is Not What You Imagined
This collection of “From the President’s Desk” Keenan Winery Newsletters takes us from Spring-Summer 1999 through Fall-Winter 2001-2002. They give a glimpse of what was on Michael’s mind a decade after he had taken over the winery from his father Robert Keenan. You see what we mean when we say Winery Lifestyle at Keenan Winery. But, most importantly, Michael Keenan’s words give us a taste of the cellar, vineyards, tasting room and winery life. It’s not all romance and gentle breezes, but it can be quite exciting, oft challenging and always a good time completed with delicious wines and sumptuous pairings.
But it sure is sweet…
Read on to learn about Fridays at the winery, cosmology and the historic importance of wine, springtime at the winery, confessions of a dirt farmer and a glimpse of the future a glance at the past. Each of the following sections represents one of the newsletters sent out (first by snail mail and later electronically) to Keenan friends and fans during the periods listed.
Fridays at the Winery – Winery Lifestyle
Fridays have long been considered by many people to be the most enjoyable day of the week. With this in mind, the highly trained, intensely disciplined, crack winemaking team at the Robert Keenan Winery have chosen this day to execute the most difficult and arduous task that any highly trained, intensely disciplined, crack winemaking team could face: tasting the wine!
In order to soften the blow of this Sisyphean task, on occasion, fantastic, gourmet meals have been prepared at the winery and served to the highly trained, intensely disciplined, crack winemaking team. Fear not, for concentration never flags, even when rack of spring lamb, encrusted in garlic and fresh rosemary, is paired with Robert Keenan 1977 Pinot Noir! You see, on occasion, we even have to bravely test the library wines to make sure that they are still in good working order. (And a special thank you to Stu Smith, our neighbor and vintner, who sold us those historic grapes and who gallantly assisted in lunch and tasting that day.)
On another occasion when an endless array of 1998 Chardonnay samples in different types of oak barrels awaited our disciplined scrutiny, Nils Venge, our extremely disciplined and totally selfless (not to mention overly talented) winemaker, volunteer to harvest and prepare fresh abalone in his secret garlic breading. For some reason, I have not been able to find my tasting notes from that afternoon?
So take note, potential visitors to the winery, should you arrive unannounced on a Friday, one of two things may happen: you will be totally ignored by the highly trained, intensely disciplined, crack winemaking team as we go about our thankless task, or you may be shanghai’d into participating in this most difficult of all Friday
Cosmology and the Historic Importance of Wine – Winery Lifestyle
As we approach the end of the millennium, I think it is fitting to look back to the beginning of time, clear up a few misconceptions, and regain a fresh perspective on the historical importance of wine.
As we all remember God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh. Now what is never discussed or written about is just what was God thinking about on that seventh day? The reason for this long-standing omission by all scholars is obvious: the subject is way too controversial and entirely politically incorrect.
Let us turn back to the fifth day, perhaps God!s finest hour. Days one through four, God had created the entire cosmos and had completely covered the earth with many splendid things, but on day five God hit a home run: he created man.
Man was an entirely joyous creative, by 6:30am hunting parties were already organized and alighting upon the bounteous game. By 12:30pm fires were blazing, flesh was roasting, and an entire day of chest thumping, drum beating, and eating without utensils with no intention of cleaning up was well underway. Man saw his future as limitless fun.
But this boundless joy was short-lived for the sixth day saw the arrival of woman. God had swung and missed! God was obviously a little fatigued from his first five days of work and had quite frankly gotten a little sloppy. Woman came out a lot nastier than he had intended and in order to try and appease her, man had spent the entire sixth day cleaning up after the big bar-b-que, cleaning up his language, and cleaning up what little clothing he had. Man was miserable. So on the morning of the seventh day man went to visit God to beg him to stop creating any more problems for man and to please turn over the job of creating things to man. God realized that he had indeed lost his fastball and agreed.
Man was overjoyed and immediately went to work on Monday the eighth and by 9:00am had created perhaps the greatest invention of all time: Beer! By 5:00pm that day the first beer hall had been erected (men only, of course) and man had a safe place to get drunk and swap stories about their strange encounters with women. This of course did nothing to improve the naturally surly disposition of women until several centuries had passed and some kind and very thoughtful man decided that it would be nice to heave a beverage that would elevate the disposition of both man and woman; hence the invention of wine.
Now that man could stand prolonged exposure to woman, the invention of the family soon followed as well as the dining room table and civilization as we know it today.
So enjoy your wine and thank your wine for your enjoyment of women!
(Sharing the Winery Lifestyle with you.)
Springtime at the Winery – Winery Lifestyle
To me there is nothing quite as magically impressive as springtime in the vineyard.The sight of green shoots erupting out of bare wood that for all intents and purposes, had appeared totally lifeless for the previous three or four months is timelessly amazing.
This spring seems especially vibrant. Five consecutive years of above-average rainfall combined with the perfect weather of the last week of March and first ten days of April got this spring off to a roaring start. The second Friday in April, I was walking through the Chardonnay vineyard experiencing what could only be described as weather perfection. The air quality was crystal perfect. The sun was radiant but not too hot; there were no thoughts of hats. The shoots on the Chardonnay vines were 5 to 7 inches long, which was about 4 inches longer than
they were the week before!
My mind was filled with positive images and thoughts. March had been the best sales month in California in the entire 23-year history of the winery! [Special mention to our Northern California broker: The Monterey Bay Wine Co!] The !99 Chardonnay barrel lots were tasting exceptionally well, especially the lot from our own vineyard. Last year (1999) was our first significant crop since replanting in 1995 due to Pierces disease; and 2000 should be our first full harvest of Chardonnay.
So there I was strolling through the vineyard with happy memories, happy thoughts, and happy projections for the future (hey, maybe even the Giants this year…) when I got to the end of the vineyard row and saw the bug trap. In the trap were nine blue-green sharpshooters, the little leaf-hopping bug that passes Pierces disease from vine to vine! This is the disease that caused us to replant 85% of our vineyards since 1995. For crying out loud, we have not even had one full crop off of our newly replanted vineyard yet – this is not fair!
So now you all know our dirty little secret; we are certifiably insane! Being in this business is proof positive. But what the heck, we make outstanding Chardonnay just get it while you can.
(Giving you the Winery Lifestyle from 2000.)
Confessions of a Dirt Farmer – Winery Lifestyle
SIX MONTHS AGO, ALMOST TO THE DAY, my son Reilly and I were sitting in the dirt behind the homeplate screen watching the last playoff game of his baseball season. I was sitting on a five-gallon bucket and Reilly was literally sitting in a pile of dirt. Not only was he sitting in it he was also scooping it up and pouring it all over himself and occasionally over me. It had been a great season!
At some point a friend walked by and commented on Reilly’s affinity for dirt and I said, “He’s a true son of a farmer!” To which Reilly replied, “Dad, I don’t want to be a farmer.” “Why not?” I asked. To which he quickly and emphatically said, “Because farmers are poor!”
How on earth did he get this impression; has he been reading my newsletter? Three months later, I’m standing in the dirt at the base of our 22-acre two-year-old cabernet vineyard wondering if the entire vineyard is going to die. It seems that most of the vines have some type of mysterious ugly, swollen, growth at the base of the vine just above the bench-graft. Most of the vines look badly dehydrated and the leaves are displaying colors that are not generally associated with good health.
We call in experts, we send samples to agricultural labs. No one seems to know what we have. We are special. We are “Farmers.” Be afraid my son, be very afraid!
Harvest has come and gone now and we did get our first small crop off the new cab vineyard, not as much fruit as we had hoped, but fruit nonetheless. Most of the vines have miraculously survived and so far the 2000 juice tastes damn good.
Can’t wait till next year!
(This is the Winery Lifestyle Reilly will come to love – just watch!)
A Glimpse at the Future a Glance at the Past – Winery Lifestyle
BEGINNING IN 1995 AND CONTINUING until 1998, we ripped out and replanted eighty percent of our vineyards. We started with the Chardonnay in ’95 and ’96, continued with the Merlot in ’96 and ’97, and then finished up with the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in ’98.
Last Friday, we did our first comprehensive tasting panel of the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (our second harvest of the new vineyard). The colors are incredible; the fruit also shows great complexity, ripeness, and classic structure that hints at great age-ability. This glimpse of the future looks very bright!
Presently we are releasing two wines, the 1998 Napa Valley Merlot, and the 1998 Reserve Napa Valley Merlot, which were harvested almost exactly three years ago at the end of a very challenging growing season, the polar opposite of this season.
Instead of early bud break and the tremendous spring heat that we had this year, 1998 gave us cool temperatures and rain through the Fourth of July. The summer never did develop the heat that we are accustomed to but by patiently waiting and praying, we finally got our vineyards to ripen by late November. Some credit also
must be given to our unique micro-climate on Spring Mountain where we get more degree days of sunlight than other regions of Napa Valley. In 1998 this advantage of our location proved to be even more crucial than ever as other areas never did fully ripen thus explaining the wide range of quality from the 1998 vintage.
I am very proud of our ’98s; the 1998 Napa Valley Merlot received the third highest score of all Merlots from Wine & Spirits Magazine in their November issue. Our ’98 Cab received the award for best Cabernet Sauvignon, best red wine, best wine in the limited production category, and best label at the Los Angeles County Fair this year!
The capper for me, though, is the 1998 Reserve Napa Valley Merlot. This wine embodies everything the all-knowing critics said that the 1998 vintage could not do. They said we could not make wines of great ripeness, great intensity, great complexity, combined with firm yet round and approachable tannins that will drink
well into the future but are also very approachable and delicious today–but we did!
I hope this brief glimpse of the future and glance at the past provides a better understanding of what we have to offer today. Enjoy.
(Winery Lifestyle straight from Spring Mountain.)
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