Just off San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, on the small, industrial Treasure Island are a few small businesses not too many non-SF-natives know about. And even those savvy to the SF scene may not realize that past the first few buildings that house Winery SF, Sol Rouge, and Sottomarino, there is an even smaller, more independent winery stationed in an abandoned school house — Kendric Vineyards.
No, it’s not glamorous — on the inside or the out. Walking through the winery, one will see all the bare-bone necessities needed in the world of wine — from barrels
…with not much room for anything else. But when it comes to the heart and soul of wine, that’s where Kendric’s beauty is bounteous.
About Kendric Vineyards:
Stewart Johnson is the vineyard owner and winemaker of Kendric Vineyards. From planting the grape seeds to bottling the wine itself, Stewart is hands-on during all stages of his vineyard’s production. He specializes in Pinot Noir and Viognier from his private vineyard in Marin as well as Syrah and Sangiovese from his mother’s private vineyard the Shenandoah Valley. With the help of his family, friends, and local volunteers, Stewart can successfully run a — pretty much — one-man wine operation.
I first met Stewart during the 2016 Pinot Days in San Francisco, where I was able to taste his 2013 Pinot Noir and his 2012 Reserve (click links for full reviews). Most recently, I had the pleasure of visiting his modest Treasure Island winery to taste and discuss some of his upcoming releases.
There’s a lot of hard labor for Stew, working his vineyard, crushing his grapes, keeping a constant eye on the development of each of his wines. But then there’s the fun part — tasting. How does a winemaker know when the wine is ready to be bottled? How does he decide if a particular varietal will be perfect on its own or will lend itself more successfully as part of a blend? How does he figure out the ratios of those blends? Go straight to the barrels to taste, taste, and taste some more.
The first barrel taste-test for us was his 2014 Sangiovese from his family’s Shenandoah Vineyard. Straight from the barrel and into the glass, this wine had an intense perfume of bright red fruits — think cherries, raspberries, strawberries. Visually stunning, in the glass, the wine has a crystal-ruby quality. And that aromatic and visual brightness carry over into the mouth as well — there’s an underlying tartness that carries through, a hint of acidity, and that lingering fruit on the finish. With a medium tannin level, this is a wine that will certainly age well once bottled, developing further complexities.
Same varietal, same vineyard, different year. And it’s amazing the difference a year makes. This wine is almost the polar opposite of its older sibling. Visually, the wine is quite cloudy. Aromatically, it gives off bigger, bolder, darker aromas. And, because of the higher tannin content, the taste is more intense with a dryer finish. This vintage is what Stew calls “typical of the style,” and, as it is still young in the barrel, he has time to wait, taste again, and decide if he’ll bottle as-is or add something to it himself to round out the flavor profile.
The 2014 Syrah “Experiment.”
Kendric Vineyards’ 2014 Syrah is an excellent example of a wine with a lot of depth and complexity, but not necessarily what one would call a “friendly” drinker. This particular vintage has taken on a lot of the barrel’s oaky-ness and presents with a strong woodsy scent. That oaky-woodsy-ness takes over a lot of the taste as well, hiding any fruit elements the wine may have — it’s not unpleasant, it’s just unbalanced. So how does a winemaker remedy an unbalanced wine? Like a good chef, a good winemaker knows what ingredients he has, how they work together, and is willing to experiment with different ratios of those ingredients until the balance is perfected.
In Stewart’s case, his “other ingredient” is a beautiful 2014 Viognier with a soft, soothing texture, floral aromas, stone fruit flavors, with just a kick of acid in the back of the tongue. If you think about it, these are the perfect elements to work alongside and even uplift the 2015 Syrah: The silkiness of the Viognier will subdue the tannins, the stone fruit, and floral aromas will both calm and complement the oak, while that bit of acid will bring forward those hidden red fruits in the Syrah.
How much to add is, indeed, an experiment. The best way to conduct this experiment is by measuring quantities by the glass and tasting. Once a proper balance is achieved, Stewart will figure out how much he’ll need per barrel and the blending will begin. Of course, it’s important to note that the amount of Viognier added to the barrel is so minute; consumers will not be able to taste the addition of an extra varietal. In fact, the percentage is so small; it won’t even qualify to mark on the final label at all (read: this will not be a blend).
Keep an eye on Kendric Vineyards — with wines that speak of both the land and the man behind the grapes, I know we’re going to see and taste fantastic bottles to come.
Kendric Vineyards is a small operation. For more details about Stewart and his wines, please visit the Kendric Vineyards website, where you can purchase current releases as well as sign up for his mailing list to find out about future releases.