Napa Valley AVA
"If you can't have fun in this business, where can you?"
Norman Kiken’s view of the wine business is quite simple. Spend whatever time it takes to search out and identify the very finest and if that revelation coincides with your own taste, then do something specific about it.
That viewpoint partially summarizes the story the 63-year-old Kiken (pronounced KICK-en) has experienced with his development of the highly regarded Reverie Winery in Western Napa Valley.
It all began nearly over three decades ago when Kiken, already a top financial officer in New York, discovered an affinity for wine. He soon found himself ordering wines by the case and devouring articles about wines and wineries. Even though his initial interest was centered on the great wines of Bordeaux, he soon found reason to change his environment and his taste in wines.
Part of his job with the giant Leucadia National Corporation involved an assignment that caused him to oversee the development of Napa’s Pine Ridge Winery. His job initially caused him to begin working in the cellar cleaning barrels, arguably the lowest rung at the winery. He gained exposure to the subtleties of the business and to the remarkable methods Pine Ridge employed to achieve their award–wining wines.
When his time came to leave Leucadia, Kiken and his wife Evelyn eventually invested in a small 40-acre vineyard in an area that many wine industry experts consider the finest Cabernet Sauvignon-growing region in California. The locale is known as Diamond Mountain, and is immediately adjacent to Spring Mountain on the Mayacamas Range’s eastern face. Diamond Mountain is incredibly steep and while seemingly unsuited to vines, is also home to such icons as Diamond Creek and von Strasser, to name Reverie’s closest neighbors.
“I guess it’s fair to say I really believe in mountain wines,” Norman Kiken recently commented. “I spent a lot of time learning about Cabernets and became convinced the finest vines in the world were being grown in this place. Frankly, when the opportunity to purchase the land that is now Reverie became available, I literally jumped at it.”
To say that Kiken’s wine career has gone the full bore would be something of an understatement. He also serves as Reverie’s full-time winemaker and has taken classes at both Santa Rosa Jr. College and UC-Davis to supplement his workmanship approach to the business.
Reverie’s wines were first released in 1993 under the Daydream Wine Cellars label when Kiken decided the winery’s initial selections didn’t meet his exacting standards. It became apparent that he was on to something when one of the new wines was selected as one of the top dozen new Cabernet releases by a national periodical.
The first actual Reverie Winery wines debuted in 1995 to critical acclaim.
“It was marvelous how practically everyone from Parker to the Wine Spectator embraced our wines,” Kiken recalled. “We only produced around five or six hundred cases of the first wines, and they really became in demand.”
Slow annual expansion has increased the winery’s limited production to around the 3,200 case level, and Kiken is adamant that there is no intention on his part to get larger.
“The way we do things right now allows us to be totally selective about just about every aspect of our business,” he continued. “This way, we can pick and choose and always have really superior quality.”
The ‘we’ refers to his son Andrew, 35, who is also an integral part of the winery. A recent fun project involved a wine named by his son, called A.S. Kiken that proved to be a big success.
“If you can’t have fun in this business, where can you?” asked Norm Kiken, with a broad smile on his face.
Another unique aspect of the Reverie story involves the Kikens’ approach to wine tastings. Reverie visitors are given a walk around tour along with a five-question test. A bottle of wine is the prize for a perfect score and to this writing, only 28 bottles have found new homes with Reverie’s visitors.
Reverie Winery has also recently began experimenting with small quantities of other varietals but continues to declare its intention to stay “ultra bordelaise.”
That statement come as good news to the legions of wine lovers who consider the wines of Reverie Winery and Diamond Mountain second to no other Cabernets in California.
That’s okay with Norman Kiken who knows that Diamond Mountain is what it is all about and everything else tends to be a gamble. Enjoy!