Kathryn Kennedy; California sun with a Bordeaux style

An excerpt from the 1/14/16 edition of the New York Times

Santa Cruz Cabernet: Wines You Never Knew

“Where cabernet grows the best is the Silicon Valley side, the high-value real estate area,” said Marty Mathis, president of Kathryn Kennedy Winery, which has made excellent cabernet sauvignon in Saratoga since Ms. Kennedy, Mr. Mathis’s mother, began planting her seven-acre vineyard in 1973.

Mr. Mathis, the winemaker since 1981, knows firsthand the perils of high-value real estate. What was largely an agricultural area was overrun by Silicon Valley neighborhoods. Ms. Kennedy maintained her vineyard even as she received lucrative offers and suburbs sprouted around her. But she died in 2009, and most of the vineyard was sold last summer. Only one of the original acres remains.

“I’m the only one who cared,” Mr. Mathis said. “The family wanted the money. It all would’ve been gone in 1975 if it hadn’t been for my mother. So I look at it as if I had 40-plus years as a gift.”

The Kathryn Kennedy vineyard is an outlier, gerrymandered into the appellation, which was founded in 1981, even though it’s about 400 feet in elevation. The wines are richer than most Santa Cruz Mountains cabernets. Still, they typify their character. The 2013 offers rich flavors of red fruit and herbs with signature notes of graphite and vibrant freshness. A 2010 is dense yet graceful, with a beautiful balance of earth, fruit and a pronounced graphite minerality.

The wines age well. The graphite aroma is still potent in a 1987. The fruit is pure and clear and the structure intact, with flavors emerging in a linear progression. A 1991 is stony, with an almost metallic minerality, not as structured as the ’87 but more lithe, while the fruit is richer and more pronounced in a 1996.

History of a pioneering women in the California wine industry.

KK“For me, Kathryn Kennedy the person was much like her wines. Perhaps a bit shy at first, but marvelously complex, witty, and warm. Strong and focused, graceful and loving”. Eric Fountain – Director of Sales

Born in 1927, Kathryn moved from Santa Cruz to Santa Clara Valley at the age of 15. She earned a degree from Stanford University at the age of 19. Married, and with the first of her four children, Kathryn moved to her Saratoga property in 1949.

Her inspiration to plant a vineyard came from experiencing a fine bottle of Martin Ray Cabernet from the 1950s and from observing the workmen tend an old Cabernet vineyard across the road from her home.

Kathryn established her vineyard during “The Wine Boom of the early 1970s”. New fashions and lifestyles were being introduced by the likes of Sunset Magazine and Julia Child. Bright colors, fresh California produce, outdoor dining and a taste for the finest foods in the European tradition were all the rage.

Kathryn was a pioneering female in the CA wine industry. Her brand was one of the first to bear a woman’s name. Her location was unusual too. Although Saratoga had a stellar wine history in the 1880s, by the 1970s it was far from Napa and off the map to all but the most astute.

In preparation for planting her 7 acres, she attended two full semesters of the viticulture program at UC Davis. Wise old professors such a Dept. Chair Kasamatis and Prof. Cook advised Kathryn to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. Own rooted Clone #8 cuttings sourced from David Bruce Vineyards were developed for one year in an on-site nursery before planting in 1973. Kathryn enlisted the help of her extended family and many volunteer friends to do the backbreaking work of planting 3300 new vines using shovels and garden hoses.

After selling fruit for two vintages to Mount Eden Vineyards in Saratoga, Kathryn established her brand and winery in 1979. Her advisor and first winemaker was Bill Anderson, who went on to be the long-standing winemaker at Chateau Julien in Carmel Valley. From 1979 until 1988 Kathryn’s tiny winery produced only Estate Cabernet.

Kathryn became known for her Estate Cabernet, packaged in a distinctive silver label that bears her signature. This flagship wine is an age-worthy bottling limited to 600 cases per year. Over her 35 years in the wine business, Kathryn has solidified a reputation as an elite Cabernet specialist, considered by many to be one the top producers in the Santa Cruz Mountains.


Kathryn Kennedy was one of the first female pioneers in the wine business, officially starting her own winery in 1979. Known for years as a Cabernet specialist, she was well respected among her peers and had a reputation as one of the top producers in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Marty Mathis, her son, has continued the family tradition of creating high quality wines from the Santa Cruz Mountain region as well as other sources from California’s key wine producing areas.

2008 Kathryn Kennedy ‘Estate’

Cabernet Sauvignon  |  Santa Cruz Mountains  |  Order Online

Kathryn kennedy EstateWine Spectrum 95: The Kathryn Kennedy estate vineyard is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines cover gentle slopes in Saratoga, California on the inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Eight acres of vines were planted on their own roots by Kathryn in 1973. Excellent soil, a climate possessing just the right amount of marine influence, and personal attention combine to yield outstanding grapes. Each vintage is grown by hand and vinified in small lots followed by gentle barrel aging with 90% French oak. Rare beyond belief, this 2008 Cabernet was the result of yet another drought influenced season. Having resulted in only 400 cases total production, the yield of these low vigor vines was barely over one ton per acre. The resulting intensity and depth of complexity from that kind of yield combined with dry and warm weather has present us with a lush and ripe style gushing with blackberry liqueur and warm brown spices; simply awesome! Ageworthiness beyond reproach, these Cabernets have proven over and over again to reach a sublime peak after ten years in the bottle.

2012 Kathryn Kennedy ‘Estate’

Cabernet Sauvignon  |  Santa Cruz Mountains  |  Order Online

Kathryn kennedy EstateWine Spectrum 95+: No one disputes that Kathryn Kennedy is a top quality Cabernet from the under appreciated Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation. Cognoscenti have already looked beyond the major California wine regions and are very aware of the potential to find world-class cab- ernets from this overlooked area. Partly due to the steep topography limiting plantable acres and partly due to its location to the south of San Francisco, the Santa Cruz Moun- tains as a whole continues to fly under the radar but is capable of yielding stunning suc- cesses. Such is the case with the Kathryn Kennedy Estate Cabernet. It won’t be found on very many shelves nor many winelist, but now is your chance to be one of those. When customer see a wine of this caliber featured at your establishment they will instantly think highly of your selection. Seize this opportunity! 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

2013 Kathryn Kennedy ‘Lateral’

Proprietary Red  |  Napa Valley  |  Order Online

K4022-labelWine Spectrum 94: This new release, made exclusively from 100% Napa Valley grapes, is sure to please the loyal Lateral fan and convert those yet to have tried the blend. The elegant interplay of Bordeaux varietals dances on the palate, with supple tannins and a silky mouth feel. Round and very well balanced, this luscious wine is both complex and approachable. Don’t miss out on this impressive, versatile blend!

2013 Kathryn Kennedy ‘Small Lot’

Cabernet Sauvignon  |  Santa Cruz Mountains  |  Order Online

Kathryn kennedy Small LotsWine Spectrum 94: Marty Mathis’ knowledge of the Santa Cruz Mountains allowed him to access grapes from superior small vineyards. These growers include a residential homeowner who’s grapes arrive at the crush pad in very small lots. Warmer growing conditions on the inland side of the coast range have proven to yield superb Cabernet for every vintage. In the hands of a seasoned Cabernet specialist like Marty, the results are extraordinary. The 2013 shows lots of bright red cherry, cassis, and a touch of cranberry. Hints of earthy minerality and brambly underbrush add to the complexity of this Cabernet. Soft tannins and balanced fruit components lead to a long, juicy finish.

2013 Kathryn Kennedy “Serious Merlot”

Merlot  |  Santa Cruz Mountains  |  Order Online

Kathryn Kennedy Serious MerlotWine Spectrum 94:  Dark purple color with bright rim. The aromas are concentrated with deep dark plum and berry notes, genuine Merlot characteristics showing tobacco leaf and cigar box nuance followed by spicy oak and rich creamy chocolate aspects all the while staying clean and bright. In the mouth; the entry is pure, refreshing and soft. This classic styled wine has flavors of red satsuma plums, blueberry and inviting earth/terroir complexities. The structure is elegant and the tannins are not intrusive in any way. Directly centered in a age worthy “right bank” Bordeaux model, our Santa Cruz Mountain Merlot has appeal both as a dinner wine now and as a cellar candidate of the highest caliber.

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