I first “discovered” Eric Kent while browsing my local wine shop. His labels have arresting artwork that really catches the eye. Obviously that is no way to judge quality, so I didn’t get that excited until a friend brought a bottle of Eric Kent Syrah to a syrah/shiraz tasting potluck. The wine was a huge success.
After that party, I’ve been wanting to visit EK for a while. Since you need an appointment, I finally called and spoke directly to Eric! That was thrilling! Then Kent sent me a very kind confirmatory e-mail about our visit with specific directions on finding the place.
It turns out that “Eric” and “Kent” are one and the same person, Kent Eric Humphrey, Winemaker and Owner. There’s a complicated story about how he arrived at the name for the winery. Really they’re a tiny operation: just Kent, his wife, and her sister. They operate it out of a cooperative in Santa Rosa. That’s where we went for the tasting.
We passed it once before finding the right place. From the road, everything looks like a small series of warehouses. Around the Copain Custom Crush, there was a fairly prominent storage company, Hopper Self Storage, that had decorated the fences with large kangaroos; and a church called Christian Family Fellowship. This did not look like a promising source for quality wine. But we were thrilled to be trying something new! This was no winery shopping-palace. Instead we were where they really do the work and make the stuff.
Kent met us and we joined a pair of opera singers and newlyweds from Cincinnati. I really liked Kent and his obvious enthusiasm for his work. This was a barrel tasting. He ran all over the place, at times climbing up stacks of barrels to grab various samples for us to try. All the time he was talking about the wine, how he got into the business, the idea behind the artistic labels and the names for the wine blends, his emotional reaction to the process of winemaking, etc. I loved it. We stood there talking and sampling wine for more than two hours but I never got bored for a second.
We sampled some of the 2010 vintage from barrel: two chardonnay, four pinot noir, and a syrah. These wines were really young. He plans on blending them at some point before bottling. Trying the varied unblended wines really helped distinguish qualities that it might be easy to overlook in the final product. For example, one of the chardonnay samples had a very fruit forward taste with a lovely perfume. The other was more minerally. The contrast was quite striking. The variations in the pinot noir samples were even greater. Experiencing the differences was really cool.
Afterward we tried some of the 2008 vintage from bottle including the delightful 2008 Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir with its intense nose of clove and spice, and the heartier 2008 Kalen’s Big Boy Blend Syrah. Wow.
We had a great time.
A fun thing about a visit to Eric Kent is that he cannot actually sell wine there. It isn’t licensed for that. So there is no pressure, especially if you don’t want to buy. The visit was free, too.
Kent did say that about half of his production is sold through his mailing list and some of the wines, like a particular Chardonnay, sell out through it. The list is free to join and you are not required to buy anything. Though they ask you to order the equivalent of about eight bottles per year, that’s just to remain active in the “wine club.” I signed up when I got home.
This is not a wine tasting experience for someone seeking an upscale commercialized approach to California winemaking. If you’re hankering more for a visit to a working winery with an enjoyable conversation with someone knowledgeable and pleasant but not overbearing, Eric Kent is a must see.