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Kenefick Ranch Vineyards

Napa Valley AVA

Needless to say the original offerings met with almost instantaneous success and the fledgling winery was on its way

Many wineries are born of the owner’s overwhelming love of wine and winery surroundings. Others begin with the owner’s natural love for farming and the resultant gratification each time nature produces her product of magnificent grapes and overwhelming beauty. In the case of relative newcomer Kenefick Vineyards, the latter course was the chosen path.

Kenefick Ranch Vineyards’ owner is noted San Francisco neurosurgeon Dr. Thomas Kenefick, 72. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Kenefick is a product of the University of Minnesota Medical School and also the Mayo Clinic. In 1969, he ventured west and joined a neurosurgery group in the Bay Area. Kenefick practiced there for the next three decades and still holds an Assistant Clinical Professorship from the University of California San Francisco even though he no longer practices medicine.

Dr. Kenefick’s involvement in the wine industry goes back to 1971 when he took a course in home winemaking and wine appreciation at Indian Valley College. The following year, he invested in a short lived startup wine operation that was made in an industrial park in San Rafael. “When that didn’t pan out after a few years, I started to change my thinking,” the energetic winery owner recalled. “I decided to begin looking for something I could control myself. I wanted a healthy environment where I could spend weekends and escape my medical practice. At the time I was only moderately interested in wines.”

Drawing from his three generation Irish (on both sides) background, Kenefick remembered his grandfather (also a doctor as was his father) was additionally a farmer in County Cork, and had enjoyed the experience a great deal. “I looked around and found out that grape growing was probably the most fun of any type of farming,” he added. A lawyer friend from Tiburon found a piece of property in Calistoga and the two went into partnership growing grapes. After several years, a coin flip in 1985 decided who would buy out whom. Kenefick lost and the resulting effect changed his life.

“I must say that losing the flip was probably the most fortunate thing that could have occurred,” he stated. “I really enjoyed growing grapes so I was forced to find myself another piece of property. The property I eventually purchased was actually better for growing grapes and was located in a much better neighborhood (across from the supremely-regarded Araujo Estate Eisele Vineyard).” For the next decade and one-half, Kenefick proceeded to produce high quality grapes for a number of clients in Napa Valley and Northern California.

“We were selling to a number of wineries and some started making vineyard designated wines that began winning really high honors,” Kenefick related. “It was then I knew we were really producing some world-class fruit.”

Dr. Kenefick closed his neurosurgery practice in 2000. A pair of cancelled contracts from two of his top wineries (they had decided to grow their own fruit) allowed Kenefick the chance to try his own hand at producing wine and Kenefick Ranch Vineyards was born. The original release in 2002 consisted of a mere 400 cases. Needless to say the original offerings met with almost instantaneous success and the fledgling winery was on its way.

“I started to consider myself in heaven,” Kenefick smiled, “I no longer had to put up with winemakers telling me how to cultivate my vines, when to drop fruit or whatever. Additionally, I was making maximum use of the land and my investment was that much more secure.” Production has risen during the next few years and today stands around the 1500 case annual mark. A new program that has just begun production will increase the total cases to around 3000 by 2009.

Only about ten percent of the fruit from Kenefick Ranch’s 125 producing acres is utilized for Kenefick Ranch’s estate wines, with the remainder still being sold to a number of winery clients, a fact that makes Dr. Thomas Kenefick consider himself more a farmer than a vintner.

“I love being a grower,” he insisted. “And, I now have the best of both worlds. Our wines are in a number of the larger markets and our upcoming program is intended to give us even more exposure. I’m not sure that I could ask for much more.’

Given the acceptance level of Kenefick Ranch wines by both consumers and the wine competitions, it would be fair to say that was a very accurate statement.

Map of the area

Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

Picture of Dear <I>Platinum Wine Club</I> Members,

It is our great pleasure and honor to be featured as Gold Medal’s wine of the month this February. At Kenefick Ranch, we are in support of all organizations that devote themselves to the promotion of and education about fine wines from around the country as my entry into the wine business stemmed from a likeness which we all share: simply, a love of wine.

My love of wine began in the late 1960’s when I had finished my medical training and moved out to California from Minnesota. While living in San Francisco and practicing Neurosurgery, I was enjoying drinking the many fine wines that California offered, but furthermore loved learning about the more technical and educational aspect of wine; the viticulture, enology and learning about the families who made Napa Valley famous for great wine. In the late 1970’s, while still practicing medicine full time, I bought a small vineyard just up the road from our current vineyard in Calistoga, CA, and devoted myself to learning about viticulture by taking night classes at Santa Rosa JC, and spent weekends applying my knowledge to the fields. In 1985, I sold my share in that partnership and bought the vineyard which I still harvest today: 125 acres of premium vineyard in Calistoga. For 17 years I worked the vineyard every weekend, selling to various prestigious wineries in the valley, while continuing to further my education of wine and become involved in the community. Five years ago I retired from medicine and fulfilled my dream of living in Napa Valley full time. It was at this point that I fulfilled another dream: starting my own label, making high quality wine entirely from our own estate.

Our vineyard, and the wine that you will taste from it, is unique in many ways. We have 125 acres of continuous property in the northern Napa Valley, along that Palisades range, that is not farmed by an outside contractor, but farmed by myself and our crew. I am involved in every aspect of the vineyard, from planting the vines to discing the fields, to tasting the blends and the final product, which you are about to enjoy. Furthermore, we are a family business as it is my children’s wish to continue growing and expanding our label. The wine is also a unique blend that combines many varietals from our own vineyard, where the soil is red and rock filled, and the temperature is a few degrees higher than the rest of the Napa Valley, making for a small microclimate very similar to Bordeaux in France. The 2003 vintage is of exceptional depth and complexity, with a rich nose and a smooth taste. It can be enjoyed when paired with a great meal, or can be equally outstanding alone.

Again, it is my great pleasure to be featured in this month’s Platinum Wine Club. Our wine represents the uniqueness of our brand, from my introduction into the wine business, to our property and the wine itself. I am very proud of our product as it represents many years of devotion to one my life’s great loves and I hope you enjoy it!


Tom Kenefick