Kenefick Ranch

Napa Valley AVA

91 Points - an illustrious example of Napa Valley Estate wines

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.

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