TOR Kenward Family Wines was founded in 2001 by Tor Kenward and his wife Susan. Tor first came to the Napa Valley in 1975 as a wine buyer for several retail shops. Hooked by the valley and the wine business, he spent 27 years as an executive at Beringer Winery before “retiring” and deciding to create his own label and wines. Over the years he befriended some of the iconic winemakers in the valley including André Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi and Myron & Alice Nightingale and others integral to the world of food and wine including Julia Child.
During his time at Beringer he had access to some of Beringer’s best vineyards and he would make a barrel of wine each year (for friends and family, never produced commercially). Upon leaving Beringer, he was not yet ready to ‘retire’. One should keep in mind there is always a select group of former winery employees and executives who never really retire from the wine business.
We originally tasted some of Tor’s earlier vintages many years ago at a tasting in Pasadena and then followed up where we both met at his house just north of St. Helena.
The focus for TOR Wines is on single vineyard premium Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from some of Napa’s best vineyards for these particular varietals. Throughout his decades in the wine industry Tor has learned where a number of the valley’s most premium vineyards are located and through his contacts at Beringer he was able to gain access to some of these properties. Despite not owning vineyards for the TOR wines Tor is personally extremely involved in the actual farming decisions including canopy management, fruit loads, pruning, harvest decisions and other integral vineyard management decisions.
Over the years TOR has sourced Chardonnay from acclaimed Carneros vineyard sites such as Durell, Hyde and Hudson. We tried the 2004 Wente Clone Chardonnay from the Durell Vineyard; this site is located in a slightly warmer area than typical for the Carneros region due to its more northerly location. The Wente clone is known for its small berries and concentrated flavors. This wine typically is fermented using only natural yeasts and sometimes can have a very long and slow fermentation period lasting up to 7 months. This particular Chardonnay shows a beautiful golden hue in the glass; it is surprisingly floral on the nose with a deep rich honeysuckle aromas along with hints of peanut brittle on the palate. It is an extremely popular restaurant wine and is available by the bottle at the French Laundry in Yountville.
We also tried two of their Cabernet Sauvignons, each one noticeably different from the other. One is the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Cimarrossa Vineyard at about 2100 feet on Howell Mountain. This is a big wine but is certainly drinkable now; it exhibits the minerality and earthiness that you often find from Howell Mountain fruit with structured tannins lasting for some time on the finish.
Their 2005 To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon is their first vintage from this famous vineyard. To Kalon vineyard is very historical and produces some of the highest quality fruit in Oakville – with Constellation owning the majority of the vineyard – the rest split between Andy Beckstoffer (who sources blocks to premium producers), UC Davis maintains an educational and experimental nearly 20 acre block and historically tow family’s the Deterts and MacDonalds farm smaller blocks.
The 2005 TOR To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon shows plenty of fruit on the bouquet yet complemented nicely with secondary aromas including with notes of cedar and a sweetness of mochal. It reveals a generous mouth feel yet is refined and elegant with a palate that is also all about the fruit. Flavors of black cherry and black licorice will seductively coat the insides of your mouth – yet these concentrated fruit flavors are balanced by good acidity and tannin structure.
TOR has a second label called ROCK which are wines solely made from varietals grown in the Rhone Valley in France. The name of this label is tribute to the huge amounts of rocks found in certain vineyards in the Rhone Valley as well as found in the nearby vineyards that Tor sources fruit from. These wines are mainly Syrah and Grenache.
TOR comes from a family of artists – his father was an accomplished writer and his mother an actress and a painter. Tor also has the gift to create engaging prose and has always been a friend of wine writers and wine journalists. TOR wines used to support fellowships for the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers still held annually at Meadowood Napa Valley hotel and spa in St. Helena.
For a number of years TOR did not have a space where they could host tastings – rather focused on select distribution and appearances at a number of premium wine events including the Taste of Howell Mountain, held each year, usually in mid June. We’ve attended this event several times and tasting some of TOR’s wines is always one of the highlights.
Today one can taste their wines at two locations – Ma(i)sonry in Yountville, a chic art gallery that combines several tasting experiences for each of the mostly Napa brands represented here including TOR and at Wheeler Farms, located on Zinfandel Lane just south of St. Helena.
Visits to Wheeler Farms are limited and are for serious wine enthusiasts and collectors. With a number of premium brands using this winery for both production and hospitality purposes, they offer a Portfolio Tasting featuring some of the wines from those producing on site. With a diversity of both producers and types of wines available, these tastings can be customized based on preference. Tastings often provide access to personalized visits with the winemakers or the owners behind the brands.
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