Tor Kenward; we work together to achieve the best possible grapes regardless of cost

TOR Wines

Tor Kenward spent 27 years as a senior executive with Beringer Vineyards working in winemaking and marketing, helping to build a wine company known to collectors worldwide for its outstanding Reserve and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. He retired in 2001, and along with his wife Susan, started TOR Kenward Family Wines, a small wine company based on single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays.

“For three decades I made a least one barrel of wine each vintage from Beringer’s best vineyard sites,” recalls Tor Kenward. “I had great mentors, Ed Sbragia and Bob Steinhauer, encouraging me to make wine and grow grapes. We had different approaches, but shared the same passion: great wine, and how to make it. We tasted together, traveled together to Europe to learn more, and shared the secrets we unearthed along the journey.”

Our winemaking is driven by the same philosophy: constantly striving for the best, whatever it takes. Tor works exclusively with small cooperage houses in France to ensure we have the best barrels, and uses natural yeasts for both primary and secondary fermentations. Grapes are hand sorted, and our wines are crafted in very small cuvees so as to receive minimal handling. “If we harvest what we consider world-class grapes, our job as winemakers is to stay out of the way. That takes experience and patience, but can be very rewarding when it all comes together,” explains Tor.

Rock Wines

In 1970, I was invited to a tasting of top Northern Rhone producers, with the promise I prepare a meal around the wines. Chave, Chapoutier, and Guigal were making wines that were off the radar for most US wine drinkers at the time, but were slowly building a fan base. These wines were big, multilayed with nuances/spices I had never tasted before in fine wines. They were Syrah.

I became a Rhone nut, and today – almost 40 years later – much of my cellar is from the steep hills of the northern Rhone, which I have visited many times over the years. I was driven to understand these unique wines better, unlock their secrets, taste, taste, taste. So, when we started TOR wines we felt we had to make Syrah, we had to take the same passion we had with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and bring it to the wines of the Rhone Valley.

In 2004 we started ROCK with that in mind. Today all ROCK wines pay homage to the wines to the Rhone Valley. Most will be Syrah emulating Hermitage, but with some bottlings with homage to Chateaunef de Pape and other appellations that invite experimentation with the varietals of the Southern Rhone region. Here Grenache can reach great heights, which we hope to duplicate someday under the TOR label. What a goal – what fun.

Why a separate label for these wines? Why not just make them TOR? Well, there is a different mentality to the making and consumption of these wines, different from Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Also, and very important to understanding ROCK wines, ROCK is a translation of TOR, which means “high rock, or rocks.” That said, all my favorite Rhone vineyards are riddled with rock, in fact, some vineyards in Chateaunef de Pape are nothing but a sea of old – worn round rocks called “galets” – that and twisted gnarly old vines that struggle to send their roots down through them to find water. Again, to make wines in these conditions takes a different mind set, so, we have a different label, ROCK, with the greatest respect to Rhone nuts everywhere.


Jeff Ames was born in West Germany, but his youth was soundly rooted in the Memphis blues, and to this day he retains a Southern accent. In the mid-90s, while working on a PhD in History, Jeff caught the wine bug. He had a summer job working in wine retail, and he found he not only liked wines, but wanted to know what made them taste different from year-to-year and vineyard-to-vineyard. It was not long before he had tasted a vast number of great international wines, and began working in every aspect of the business: sales (, writing (Decanter), travel (and tasting with Claude Dugat and other greats in Burgundy), finally settling into his first crush in Oregon with vintner Rex Hill. In 2001, Jeff moved to the Napa Valley to work with veteran winemaker Thomas Brown, who became his mentor. Along the way, Jeff has worked as assistant winemaker at Schrader, Maybach, Outpost, and yes, Tor Kenward Family Wines, alongside Thomas. Jeff’s attention to detail, skills, knowledge, and experienced palate made him the ideal choice as head winemaker for TOR Kenward Family Wines in 2003.


“I walked every corner of Napa and Sonoma those three decades, an avid student of what makes a great vineyard. Luckily, I am working today with people whom I consider to be extraordinary growers dedicated to growing the highest quality grapes,” explains Tor. “We farm these special vineyard sites by acre-by-acre — meaning we work together to achieve the best possible grapes regardless of cost.”

Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard
Oakville, Napa Valley
Beresini Vineyard
Carneros, Napa Valley
Cimarossa Vineyard
Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
Durell Vineyard
Sonoma Valley, Sonoma
Hudson Vineyard
Carneros, Napa Valley
Hyde Vineyard
Carneros, Napa Valley
La Herradura Vineyard
St. Helena, Napa Valley
Mast Vineyard
Yountville, Napa Valley
Melanson Vineyard
St. Helena, Napa Valley
Palisades Vineyard
Calistoga, Napa Valley
Tierra Roja Vineyard
Oakville, Napa Valley
Vine Hill Vineyard
Oakville, Napa Valley
Tor Kenward walking the To Kalon vineyard.


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