Kenwood Vineyards combines two of my favorite things – art and wine. I wanted to visit this tasting room because I was familiar with their Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon. For over 30 years Kenwood has been highlighting paintings by contemporary artists on a select Cabernet Sauvignon release.
The tasting room is located in the original circa 1906 Pagani Brothers Winery building. It sits on over 20 acres of vineyards. The tasting room is open daily and the day we visited they were offering five tastes for $5. It is warm and cozy with a very friendly vibe. There is a good collection of wine-related gift items for purchase as well as posters of the artist series labels. Yes, I was a sucker for these and purchased a print of the 1990 Sam Francis label.
The Artist Series Cabernet releases originated in 1978 when Kenwood Vineyards commissioned a local artist, David Lance Goines, to create a pastel art panel to enhance its 1976 Cabernet Sauvignon. The image Goines created featured a tasteful naked woman reclining on a vineyard slope. When the 1975 “Naked Lady” label, as it was affectionately referred to, was submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for approval it was denied as obscene and indecent. Only 228 bottles with the “Naked Lady” label were permitted to leave the winery. The label was resubmitted with a tongue-in-cheek label featuring a skeleton in place of the woman and was also was rejected. The label eventually approved showed only a grassy hillside with a stream running by, but the notoriety and rarity of the original design launched the Artist Series.
Showing how times have changes, the label was resubmitted in 1997 for the 20th anniversary and it was approved.
During its first decade, the Artist Series focused on works by contemporary artists. The 1987 vintage broke with tradition by featuring a painting by Joan Miro, and in the years since, the Artist Series has presented works by other important artists from the past, including Pablo Picasso, Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Henry Miller, Alexander Calder and Paul Klee.
Beginning in 1976, Kenwood Vineyards was allowed to produce wines from the Jack London Beauty Ranch, which is located in Glen Ellen. Jack London is a famous author, perhaps his most famous works include “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”. Much of the original land was donated to what is now Jack London State Historic Park. Additional land, a unique red-lava soil that was planted in grapes in the late 1800s, still produces outstanding – Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah wines. These wines are defined by the unique wolf head logo from Jack London’s bookplate. Kenwood has an exclusive agreement to purchase the grapes from the Jack London Vineyard.
On this gorgeous Napa day, Dennis was pouring for us. We had several yummy wines including the 2010 Yulupa (which means “bright and shiny”) Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines were specifically created for the restaurant community to serve by the glass. Our tour experience came to an end all too soon, but not before we got a quick peak at the original wooden tanks located in the back of the tasting room.