Napa Valley AVA
90 Points - Wine Enthusiast & 'Highly Recommended'
When Ken Nerlove and his partners first put together their partnership, none of the three friends had any idea their undertaking would ever evolve into Elkhorn Peak Cellars.
In fact, Nerlove will freely admit the fact that when he first got started, he knew absolutely nothing about wine!
Today Nerlove describes himself as a “free spirited by-product of the 1960s, who just might be the most contented single person in the entire wine industry.” After that most explicit statement, some explanation might be in order.
Ken Nerlove and his partners, long time friend and solar energy expert Greg Gahagan and San Francisco stockbroker John Kryzanowski, initially found a piece of property over two decades ago in southern Napa County and agreed it would make an excellent investment. The property was actually part of the area locals refer to as Jamieson Canyon and was located at an elevation of about 350 feet. Nerlove recalls that when he first climbed the property, it offered him an excellent view of the final throes of San Pablo Bay complete with the majestic Golden Gate Bridge for a magnificent background befitting any artist or photographer.
Nerlove also acknowledges a particular fondness for working outdoors and a penchant for building anything – anytime. He moved to the area and it wasn’t long thereafter that Ken started to enjoy the lifestyle that is particular to the wine country of Northern California.
In 1991, the partners were encouraged by a former neighbor and decided to start a winery on their site. They also agreed to name it after Elkhorn Peak, Jamieson Canyon’s highest point, and not after any one or themselves.
Along the way, their neighborhood has improved immensely. Elkhorn Peak Cellars adjoins the sprawling Kirkland Ranch Winery and is directly across from Napa’s famed Chardonnay Golf Course that has seen every visitor to Napa even remotely interested in the venerable old Scottish game.
Both Ken Nerlove and Greg Gahagan live on the property, and Nerlove is the lone employee of Elkhorn Peak Winery. And Nerlove readily admits he has become skilled at his chosen vocation.
“In my years of being in the wine business,” he stated flatly, “I’ve listened to everyone’s opinions on growing, climates and soils. A lot of people have a lot of differing opinions and I’m sure many of them are correct.
But after growing grapes for twenty years in this one spot, I believe I really know what I’m doing here! I know what is best suited for this particular spot and how to get the most out of my vines. I’m a firm believer in the fact that you must grow the varietal that is correctly suited to your own particular terroir.”
In the case of Elkhorn Creek, the correct varietal is the indomitable Pinot Noir that Nerlove believes benefits greatly from the abundance of early morning fog, the steady cool afternoon breezes, a southern facing and the marvelous 18-24 inches of loamy topsoil Elkhorn Peak enjoys. The combination tends to produce and develop unique flavors that Nerlove translates into world-class wines.
Elkhorn Peak’s first release was a miniscule 350 cases of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery’s current case production rests around the 2,000 case level and Ken Nerlove doesn’t see a great deal of growth ahead in the immediate future.
“We might possibly go as high as 4,000 cases,” he added, “but that will be it. At that point, I will have worked myself crazy. That’s as far as I care to go. Right now I put in some really long hours. I’m simply not interested in becoming a wine tycoon or the like.”
Ken Nerlove is a refreshing throwback to some of the early pioneers of the California wine industry, men and women who were more interested in producing great wines than making huge fortunes. He runs a no nonsense business that produces exceptional quality wines from grapes that he tends with his own hands on a daily basis.
We are pleased to present the Elkhorn Peak Cellars to you as this month’s Pinot Noir Series Selection. We know you will share with us its compelling history and quality. Enjoy!
Elkhorn Peak Cellars’ wine is made under the direction of master winemaker, Kent Rasmussen, who is considered one of the best Pinot Noir winemakers in the Napa Valley. Kent was a pioneer in the Carneros region, now one of the hottest regions in California, and currently has his own winery operation in St. Helena. Elkhorn Peak is currently the only custom client that Kent makes wine for!
Kent Rasmussen gained valuable experience at the Robert Mondavi Winery, Domain Chandon, Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery in South Africa and Saltram’s Wine Estate in Australia’s Barossa Valley before starting his own venture in 1986. Since then he has managed to establish himself as an extremely respected winemaker. With Ken Nerlove’s expertise in growing grapes and Kent’s outstanding abilities as winemaker, Elkhorn Peak has the winning combination that is necessary to produce world class wine!