Kent Rasmussen Winery owned two wineries; the original winery in Carneros (the sub appellation south west of the city of Napa) and were leasing their Silverado Trail winery to another winery for several years (but have since sold this one). They have no tasting room and are not open to the public.
This winery was founded by Kent Rasmussen with their first commercial vintage released in 1986. It is truly a family owned and operated winery (Kent and his wife Celia – an accomplished singer) with Kent doing all the wine making since day one. Kent is a former librarian who later decided he wasn’t up for the “indoor” life and at that point he was already making home wine. They moved up from the Bay Area, borrowed $20k and set about planting the vineyards and setting up shop in Napa. Today $20,000 will hardly get you a few tons of the most premium Cabernet grapes in the valley!
Their focus is on his favorite varietal, Pinot Noir. They own 15 acres of vineyards in Carneros not far from the San Pablo Bay, all planted to Pinot. The vineyard was planted in 1979 making it one of the earlier Pinot Noir vineyards in this part of Napa. Kent remembers standing in his vineyard and looking out at grazing land in all directions. Today in Carneros you are hard pressed to find any grazing land among the rolling sea of vines! The Carneros region skyrocketed in popularity for cooler weather varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the 1980’s.
Their “up valley” winery and surrounding property (near St. Helena) was purchased in 1995 and was used for many years as their production facility. However their real “roots” so to speak are in the Carneros where they originally made wine. They currently share a south Napa based winery with another vintner.
The one wine that sets themselves apart from most of the other wineries physically located in the “up valley” is their delicious Pinot Noir. In fact this varietal comprises about 70% of their total production and is their flagship wine. They currently offer three different labels: 1. the Kent Rasmussen wines are all from Napa vineyards, 2. the Ramsey label includes wines priced affordable that are from mostly from North Coast vineyards (Mendocino and Lake Counties to the north of Napa). Most of their wines are produced under this label which is about 30,000 cases.
Their third label is called Esoterica. This label incorporates its own flagship wine, the Petite Sirah as well as non mainstream very limited production wines which often include varietals from Napa and beyond that only the most hard core of wine lovers will have heard of. Try, Touriga Nacional, Sousao (both Portugese varietals), and Carmenere (hails from Bordeaux France). Some of the past vintages have included late harvest Viognier and a rare Napa grown Riesling. The word Esoterica means “secrets known only to an initiated minority”, well the secret is out on these wines. Combined with their small productions and uniqueness they often sell out rather quickly.
We tried the 2006 Chardonnay sourced from Rutherford. It should be pointed out that for any fruit sourced, Rasmussen has locked up these vineyards in long term contracts thus ensuring the consistency of the terroir each year. Due the abundance of Chardonnay in the Napa Valley and the scope of our project we have tasted more than our fair share of this varietal. As a result, it is always refreshing to find a take on this varietal that is slightly different than what we are used to.
It was barrel fermented (both the initial and the malolactic) and aged for about 7 months in American Oak (50% new, 50% used). A portion of the wine was fermented very cold to help retain additional fruit flavors. Is this wine “oaked” as you would think it would be, both in aroma and on the palate? Not so at all. This is a crisp golden colored wine, not overly creamy in nature with tropical notes including honeysuckle on the nose as the bouquet opens up. The palate is refreshing with lots of fruit including apple and even a touch of stone fruit flavors.
The 2006 Estate Pinot Noir is their flagship wine. It is quite dark for a Pinot and is sourced from some of the oldest Pinot vines in Carneros (their own vineyard). It has a wonderful herbal, somewhat floral bouquet with lots of fruit showing through – mainly raspberry. Balance is the key to this wine as in… perfectly balanced! The mouth feel is rich, smooth and rounded, anchored by wonderful fruit on the slightly spicy finish. This is a great food wine; think of anything tomato based.
We have slowly been developing our palate to Pinot Noir which is harder than you think with the focus of this project entirely on Napa wines. There are certainly fewer Napa Pinot Noir producers in comparison to the hundreds of Cabernet Sauvignon producers in the valley. However, this is definitely one of the nicer Napa Pinot’s we have tried.
If you would like to pick up some wine, you should call ahead to make sure someone is at the actual winery. By in large the majority of their wine is sold only through distributors and as of the time of this review, they typically do not sell direct to the consumer.
However you can find their wines in select markets in about 35 states and locally in Napa’s Whole Foods. Visit: www.kentrasmussenwinery.com