Kenefick Ranch is a family run vineyard and wine producer located near the small town of Calistoga in the northern part of Napa Valley. It was founded by Dr. Tom Kenefick (died in 2021); who graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School and then spent his residency at the Mayo Clinic. He moved to San Francisco in 1969; while enjoying a successful start of his career working as a neurosurgeon (later Chief of Neurosurgery), he took his first trip up to the Napa Valley in 1970. Falling in love with the region he purchased 250 acres in 1978. At that time, the property was already planted to vines, mostly to head pruned Italian varieties but was not being maintained very well – the owner was still managing the vineyard rows with a horse-drawn plow.
Recognizing the correlation between his own career by improving people’s lives through surgery he became focused on the challenge of enhancing the quality of his “new” vineyard. Over time (driving back and forth on the weekends for many years) Tom slowly upgraded and turned his vineyards into a much sought after fruit source and today sells grapes to other premium producers and wineries. Eventually Tom replanted all of the vines on the property – focusing primarily on Bordeaux red varieties but also some unusual for the Napa Valley, white Rhone varieties like Grenache Blanc and Marsanne.
For many years, Tom lived on the ranch, literally surrounded by grapevines and did not have to commute in years. Tom enjoyed vineyard work late in life but stepped back from physical activities in his later years. Fortunately his children have joined the business; his daughter Caitlin helps with marketing, branding and sales events and for some years Chris oversaw their national sales program; Chris is now CEO and proprietor of Kenefick Ranch.
Approximately 125 acres are planted to grapes (all certified Napa Green and Fish Friendly Farming ™) – about 10% of the grapes are not sold and are used for their own wines. In 2002 Kenefick Ranch produced their first commercial vintage under their own label. When we first met with the team years ago, they were only producing several wines but have since expanded their portfolio significantly.
Their winemaking philosophy is to strike a balance between high alcohol fruit forward wines that may not age very well and lower alcohol wines – their wines always incorporate a decent amount of acidity. A big part of that is tied to their canopy management and careful harvesting decisions – often picking slightly earlier for lower sugar levels.
The 2013 Kenefick Ranch Petite Sirah cannot be seen through in the glass – in other words, this wine is inky dark. The aromatics are savory, meaty, brooding and dark. Give this wine time to breath and the initial rustic nature disappears revealing plenty of aromatic depth including a showy melange of ripe plum, boysenberry, black licorice and cassis. Also some darker spices on the fringes of the bouquet – including touches of pepper. A very subtle hint of caramelized sweetness. Great acidity, mouth watering. Shows an intensity of fruit across the palate without gripping tannins that this variety is often known for. Rather the tannins are more gravelly and rounded in their feel – lingering along with notes of mocha. Seven years post vintage date has certainly been a factor in helping smooth these out.
This wine was aged for 18 months in French Burgundian oak of which 10% was new and 90% was neutral. Only 190 cases were made.
The 2004 Kenefick Ranch Cabernet Franc is one of the nicer Cabernet Francs we have tasted from the Napa Valley. Sometimes Cabernet Francs are associated with vegetal or bell pepper characteristics. Not so with this wine. Their Cabernet Franc is a reflection of where it is grown and the type of climate that Kenefick’s vineyards experience. The nose is complex with various spices and hints of cedar; the smooth tannins do not overwhelm the darker fruit flavors on the palate. It has a very velvety mouth feel.
The 2012 Kenefick Ranch Chris’s Cuvée (named after Tom’s son) is a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend – aromatically it shows a nice mix of complexity both fruit (blue berry), raspberry and leather notes and violets. There is a sweetness of fruit and oak tannin – the tannins are somewhat gravelly/earthy. The wine does not overwhelm your palate – rather it is refreshing and balanced. Very food friendly.
The 2004 Kenefick Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon is a dark wine with a great nose that includes touches of chocolate and some vanilla imparted from the new French oak aging. The tannins are mild and the fruit flavors include ripe cherry and plum.
Their wines are very reasonably priced and hold up extremely well in competitions in which the other wines are often priced significantly higher. Some of the grapes used to make their Cabernet Sauvignon was also used in a Behrens Family wine (a local winery) which was awarded “wine of the year” in a Sunset Magazine “Western Wine of the Year” competition.
We originally visited with part of the team at their office/house at their vineyard and then later at a shared tasting room called Up Valley Vintners in downtown Calistoga where Kenefick Ranch was one of the wines represented. However this tasting room closed in late 2016.
Currently Kenefick Ranch shares the tasting room with Fairwinds Estate (along the Silverado Trail) – just south of Calistoga where they also produce their wines. Visitors to the valley can taste the Kenefick Ranch wines at their tasting room along with the Fairwinds Wines and usually one or more wines from several other small producers who make their wines on site. Visitors do not require appointments to the tasting room. However, appointments are required for private tastings of Kenefick Ranch wines – held inside the cave at Fairwinds Estate.
Plans are underway to build their own tasting room – hopefully to open by 2022. Once it does open, we will visit and significantly update this review.
Kenefick produces only about 1500 cases annually and has national distribution in select markets. In the valley, you can sometimes find their Cal Wine Shop in Calistoga and at the well-regarded Solage Resort just south of the town of Calistoga. They also have a mailing list which as of the time of this review is still open to new customers. The wines can be found in select Napa Valley locations including just ‘up the street’ at Solbar in the Solage Resort in Calistoga. For more information or to join their wine club, visit: www.kenefickranch.com
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing a *major* update.