Meet the mind behind the wine of Kenwood Vineyards, Pat Henderson
Learn a bit about the behind-the-scenes action at Kenwood Vineyards as I interview and taste with winemaker Pat Henderson.
About Pat Henderson:
Pat Henderson was a bit of a military brat and traveled quite frequently during his younger years, but his family ultimately settled just outside of what is now California’s great wine country. Although his parents enjoyed wine, they were by no means wine makers. In fact, the only exposure Pat had to the winemaking process was through a family friend who, straight from the fatherland, hand blended his own wine like a true native Italian. So, in Pat’s eyes, making wine was just a hobby.
Wine always signified a special occasion for Pat and his family. Birthdays, Christmases, any kind of family gathering really, Pat was allowed an ounce or two of (watered-down) wine even as a kid. And as a teenager he’d earn an extra buck or two punching down his neighbor’s grapes. But it wasn’t until Pat studied enology at UC Davis and, under the recommendation of a mentor, that he decided to literally work in the wine field. In 1981 Pat worked his first harvest at Domain Chandon and realized, “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” He goes on, “They say that your first harvest is the hardest: you’ll never work so hard and get paid any less than that first experience. So if you love that experience, you know you’re in the right field.” Pat is now working his 36th career vintage.
Although he worked his way up the winemaking ladder at various vineyards, he ultimately came back home to Sonoma, specifically to Kenwood. While an apprentice, Pat had the privilege to learn under the then winemaker Mike Lee who, on Pat’s first week on the job, allowed him to attend a blending trial. “I’m sure he didn’t listen to anything I said,” Pat remembers, but that ability to be a part of a hands-on winemaking team is what stirred Pat’s passion for the Kenwood name and wines.
Kenwood keeps this family-like team spirit even to this day. Although they only own 25 – 30% of the vineyards they use for their wines, the other vineyards are all Sonoma-based family vineyards with a long-term relationship to Kenwood. And Pat believes that Sonoma is truly the best place to plant grapes and make wine. The county is so large and the terroir so varied from sub-region to sub-region — there’s a place for every grape to grow and thrive!
Sonoma isn’t just where Pat works, it’s where he lives as well. Though he’s lived in various parts of wine country, he much prefers the “down-to-earth,” “passionate” atmosphere of Sonoma. “There’s more pickups than Range Rovers here, if you know what I mean,” he says. I do. In fact, Pat lives less than a mile from the famed wine country author Jack London (who, actually, farmed everything except wine), and you can read about the road Pat lives on (Sonoma Mountain Road) in London’s book Valley of the Moon. When asked if there’s a connection between him and London, if there’s a reason he lives so close to the old estate, and why he has a wine series dedicated to the man, Pat simply states, “We both fell in love with the land.”
We can’t talk about Sonoma, the amazing terroir, Kenwood wine, and Pat Henderson without tasting the literal fruits of land’s and the man’s labor. Below you will find our tasting flight with links to my notes and more Q&A with pat about each specific bottle. Enjoy and Cheers!
The Tasting Flight
Kenwood Vineyards Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2014
Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
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