Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Chat With Winemaker Kent Rasmussen...

Interviewing people, especially people I admire such as winemakers and grape growers, has always been a difficult thing for me. As I forge ahead in the blogosphere, I am going to be interviewing people more and more. As frightened as I am at the prospect, the thing I love the most about it is what comes after I've listened to a winemaker talk about their labor of love. It's such an awe-inspiring feeling!! And it makes me wonder why I was ever frightened in the first place! Recently, I was given the opportunity to interview Napa Valley winemaker, Kent Rasmussen of Kent Rasmussen Winery--a little goldmine of a winery that sits on the Silverado Trail. I was nervous, but excited because giving the small family winemakers all the exposure I can is what it is all about! He was great to speak with and made me feel completely at ease!

My chat with Kent lasted around 50 minutes and during this time, he painted a beautiful and realistic picture of what life as a Napa Valley winemaker can be like. I've recently found that there are so many interesting reasons why people get into winemaking and I'd like to put them all together in a book--one of my many future projects! Winemakers come from all walks of life and when I first approached the subject, Kent hesitated, stating that his story was not glamorous by any means. No matter! I still wanted to hear it and what he mentioned was really interesting.

Kent Rasmussen didn’t come from a winemaking family like some did and he wasn’t a wealthy venture capitalist who decided to get into winemaking. Kent had been working as a librarian at UC Berkeley and was somewhat of a home winemaking hobbyist. I recently met an old aquaintance of his, Washington state winemaker, Katy Perry of Tildio Winery. When I spoke of the winemakers I had talked to, she mentioned she had worked with Kent in the early days and he had specialized in African Studies, not the usual tale you'd expect to hear. One day Kent looked out the window and decided he just couldn’t spend his life working indoors anymore. The idea of making wine appealed to him, having had a bit of the home winemaking experience. He decided to go back to school for some viticulture and enology education . What followed was work at Robert Mondavi Winery but Kent was interested in venturing out on his own.

This was still in the late 70s when the price of land was still reasonable. Kent and his wife Celia (pictured above) decided to forge ahead and slowly but surely they began making their own wine. In the beginning, they planted a few acres of Pinot Noir in Carneros, the southern end of Napa Valley--where the cool climate is ideal for this grape. They also purchased Chardonnay grapes from others. Kent's work ethic was a prime example of how working slow but steady leads to success. Their wines became well-received over the years and what they have now are award winning wines and a piece of Napa Valley history.

I have to say, I have been very impressed with Kent’s wines. The sample package I received contained the 2007 Carneros Chardonnay, 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2007 Esoterica Petite Sirah. The Chardonnay was sampled for a live event I participated in a few months back on Twitter. One of the most interesting Chardonnays I’ve ever encountered, the 2007 Carneros Chardonnay was multi-layered… Each layer would meld into something surprisingly new. It was vibrant and exciting with full-bodied richness. Tropical fruits, vanilla, spice and a long, lingering finish. But not buttery-oaky or over the top. It was about as great as a Chardonnay could be! Borderline grand! A truly unique experience. (I could go on and on...) Kent said the formula for this Chardonnay happened by accident. One year he had barrel sampled the wine too soon, then forgot about it for a bit longer than normal. Sounds like a winning formula to me! I’m sold. I am pretty sure you will be too! $29.

Now, mind you, I am just getting into Pinot Noir and having sampled so many different ones, it's tough for me to choose one style I love over another. The Carneros region of Napa Valley is known for it's cool climate and the perfect place to grow Pinot Noir grapes. The 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir is enjoyable with subtle raspberry and cranberries that flow into dark chocolate mocha and cinnamon spice flavors. One sip and you recognize where it comes from. It has a dry, spicy finish and is the perfect food wine. Kent has been making Pinot Noir for over 25 years so I would guess this has to be his flagship. It is truly "Purely Poetic Pinot Noir" as they would put it! $40.

The third wine I sampled, the 2007 Esoterica Chavez-Leeds Vineyard Petite Sirah is classic!It recently won a huge accolade from Wine Enthusiast Magazine---94 points! The Esoterica label is Kent’s side project--his “fun” label-the “thrill of discovery” as he puts it. Every year he releases something fun and different using the label. This Petite Sirah is fabulous! It’s dark, tannic, and bold! Yet it is also well-balanced so it can stand up to some heavy duty dishes and still pair well with a simple grilled meat! This wine has been dubbed "The Petite Sirah for Cabernet Lovers". Rightfully so as it is majestic and magnificent! Don't miss out on this fabulous find! $40.

In addition to the Kent Rasmussen and Esoterica labels, Kent has a companion label named after his wife, Celia Ramsay. You may recognize the wines with the Ramsay label as they are distributed nationwide. They are food -friendly, easy drinking wines and can be found in many restaurants and wine shops.

I am planning a little jaunt over to Napa Valley this coming October and I am planning on a stop at Kent Rasmussen Winery. You will find they are truly a gem not to be missed. The winery is located at 1001 Silverado Trail S. in St. Helena, CA. Open daily from 11 AM to 4 PM. I’m excited to visit! If you can't make it out to visit them, here is some important information on how to get some of these great wines: Some of the wines are distributed in certain states, but the best way to get them is to contact the winery directly. Please contact Michelle Hunt at (707) 963-5667 or e-mail her directly at

I’d like to thank Michelle for arranging this opportunity and turning me on to such a great story! It was a pleasure speaking with Kent and I know he will continue to keep making a name for the winery for many years to come. My thanks to Kent for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with me! Hope to see you all in October!!


  1. What a great story. I agree that wine makers come from all walks of life and are very humble. Thank you for sharing Grace. I'm sorry I missed them on my last visit but I will be trying their wine in the future!

  2. This is inspiring! Gives me more hope to hang on there. Thank you.

    Being a fresh graduate I am having trouble getting a vintage job even though I have done some handwork in vineyard. If I can't get it very soon I will have to leave Oz and go do a vintage in South Africa or God knows where to get the work experience. It is an industry tough on young ones...