Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Go South, My Friends, Go South! Part 2: A Trip Down Memory Lane at Pioneering Kathryn Kennedy's Historic Saratoga Vineyard

Shame on me for taking so many years to finally head to the South Bay and explore some wineries that have been on my "to visit list" for such a long time. But I was redeemed this past Saturday, when, fortuitously, I escaped the wine country hordes ascending on Napa and Sonoma and instead headed South to Saratoga and Los Gatos, covering two wineries with organic vines and one historic vineyard in the span of one very easy, traffic free day.

My second stop was at Kathryn Kennedy's vineyard, a one acre remnant of her original eight acres in the heart of what is now suburban Saratoga, where the surrounding houses fetch as much as $2.5 to 5 million. (The site is located at 13180 Pierce Road in Saratoga; it shows up in Google maps searches.)

At the time Kennedy planted the vineyard, in 1973, she had two reasons for doing so. One, as a single mom with four children, she said she had to have a way to hold onto her land and make the land pay for itself. Another reason, she said, was that she was protesting the massive development of the surrounding land that was then taking place, when suburban homes for Silicon Valley workers displaced the longstanding traditional agriculture - apricot and plum orchards, along with vineyards. 

What remains of her original vision today is due to her son, Marty Mathis, who has persistently preserved this one acre viticultural outpost. You cannot "visit" the premises, as there is no tasting room, but you can drive by, park on the side of the road, and reminisce about the past.

Marty Mathis with his mother, Kathryn Kennedy, in 2007
Mathis continues to make world-class Cabernet from the vineyard as well as an organically grown Bordeaux blend (under the Lateral brand) made from Napa's finest vines.

Like the Cooper Garrod family up the road, Kennedy was inspired by the high caliber of the winegrowers and winemakers in the region which included Martin Ray, Mt. Eden Vineyards, Ridge (Montebello), David Bruce and others. (Both David Bruce and Ridge Vineyards were among the wineries that bested French wines in the famous Judgment of Paris competition in 1976). 

She moved to Saratoga as a mom, with her first child - to the property the vines grow on - in 1949. It was tasting a Martin Ray cabernet (from the neighboring winery) in the 1950's that got her into wine. (George Cooper of Cooper Garrod may have been similarly inspired). She also credits watching the vineyard workers tending a Cabernet vineyard across the road with her interest in growing grapes and making wine.

Kathryn Kennedy in 1949, on the land she later planted as a vineyard
In 1973 she planted her first vines, which were own-rooted Cabernet, from cuttings she got from David Bruce. It was a bold move. Few new vineyards were being established in the region, as the action had moved to Napa and Sonoma.

She prepared for developing her vineyard by attending viticulture classes at U.C. Davis, a move that was unusual for a woman at the time.

She planted 3,300 Cabernet vines with the help of her family and friends.




When the vines were mature enough to harvest, she sold two vintages of grapes to Mt. Eden Vineyards (up the road).  In 1979, she released her own first vintage.


The winery continued to operate under her direction from 1979-1988. 

Later, her son Marty began to take a more active role, and in 2007, under his guidance, the vines were certified organic by CCOF.

Kathryn Kennedy died in 2009, from cancer, at the age of 82. But her wines live on. As does her vineyard.

Enjoy these photos, from my Saturday outing.





The good news is you can still drink this wine.

Look for the 2010 and the latest vintages of Kathryn Kennedy's Cabernet Sauvignon ($99/bottle) online at the winery web site (sold by the case only) or via wine-searcher, K&L wine merchants, totalwine.com and more. 

The 2010 vintage received a 90 pt. rating from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.