Steven Kent Winery – tradition and trailblazers

Steven Kent Mirassou is part of the California wine industries pioneering royalty, and has grounded himself firmly in the rich soils of Livermore Valley.  As one of California’s hidden wine regions, Livermore offers more than meets the eye, and Steven Kent Winery is no exception.

On a hot and bright spring day, the intrepid wine blogger crew headed out to Livermore, a scant hour from San Francisco, and located in the greater Bay Area.  One of many high quality local wine regions, Livermore is often overlooked as a world class growing region.  However, producers like Steven Kent are making their mark and changing what we define as California wine.

Founded in 1996, the winery’s original mission was to make some killer Cabernet Sauvignon in the Livermore Valley that would give Napa a run for it’s money.  With the long history of Livermore Valley producing world class Bordeaux varietals.  In recent years, Livermore has become known as a bedroom community supporting the Silicon Valley, and home to government institutions, but the last 20 years have changed the face of the wine business drastically.

And now, on to the wines!  Steven Kent Winery is home to two brands, Steven Kent, and La Rochelle.   With each brand represented by it’s own winemaker, the two sisters showcase the best of what the area has to offer.  While Steven Kent is focusing on the rich history of Livermore, producing some excellent Bordeaux style wines, La Rochelle maintains the family line of Central Coast wines, focuses on Pinot Noir f

2011 Steven Kent Merrillie Chardonnay – Named for Steven’s grandmother, the Merrillie Chardonnay is made from an old Wente clone.  As one of the founding wineriesin Livermore, Wente has created a unique line of clones, most noteably for chardonnay and pinot noir.  This wine showed rich custard, bold viscostity and tropical fruit salad.

2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay – Dutton Ranch – Morelli Lane – one of my favorite Sonoma County chard vineyards, the bright Meyer lemon notes are framed by sandlewood and baking spice.  The richness is counterbalanced by the bright acid, capturing the vitality, movement, momentum, liveliness

2010 La Rochelle – Donum Estate Carneros – Bright cherry, brown sugar and molasses are dancing in a mouthful of Dr. Pepper.  The clonal selection on the western block in the heart of Carneros is a luxurious blend that is indicabtive of Carneros fruit, rich and yet somehow not opulant.  The forest floor and jalepeno play in the black cherry of this elegant sipper.

2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir – Donum Estate Carneros – it sin’t often we are lucky enough to have a side by side of two different vintages.  Richer and bolder than the 2010, there is black fruit, fig, and a touch of salinity on top of cherry pie filling.  This is a classic Carneros Pinot, but I prefer the liveliness of the 2010.

For a change of pace, the 2010 La Rochelle Pinot Noir – Soberanes Santa Lucia Highlands – is  a classic example of what Santa Lucia can offer.  Huge cherry and cola flavors come from this vineyard that is named for a Mexican land grant in Monterey County.  Originally planted by the Pisoni family (of Gary’s and Rosella’s fame), the Soberanes vineyard is next to Gary’s and shows many of the same flavor profiles of bold, rich red fruit while maintaining the acid that is so wonderful in the cool foggy areas of the highlands.

One of the crowd favorites was the 2005 La Rochelle Pinot Noir – Sleepy Hollow Vineyard.  Having an older wine to compare with a fresher wine reveals carmel, mushroom and earthy notes where the fruit has fallen back to reveal a spicy and bold wine.  Comparatively, the 2009 La Rochelle Sleepy Hollow was full of beautiful purple and black fruit, with a beautiful bold finish and a touch of tart cherry on the finish.  It was a mixed bag around the table which was the favorite!

Moving on from the Pinot Noirs of La Rochelle, we delved deeper in to the wines of Steven Kent.  Making red wines that can compete with the big boys of Napa is no easy feat, particularly in an upstart region such as Livermore.  However, these wines have terroir, freshness, and interes – which is often chanllenign to find amonst the sea of sameness in that other valley.

2010 Steven Kent The Premier – This reserve Cabernet is dark and dusty, with a pocketful of bittersweet cocoa.  A touch of chewy beef jerky gives this some structure and denseness that was a beautiful finish.

One of my favorites, the 2010 Steven Kent Cabernet Franc was one of my favorites.  I love Cab Franc, primarily because it has an earthy note to it that gives complexity tot he fruit forwardness.  This Cab Franc had dried olives, tobacco, and stewed meat and was a Velvet Elvis painting waiting in a Vegas hotel room.  While Cab Franc is known for it’s green and herbaceous notes, this was a perfect balance of herbal and floral notes without being green bean or green pepper.

Wanting to make beautiful complex elegant wines that tell a story is one of the reasons why the winery was founded, and the flagship wine, the 2009 Lineage, is the culmination of this effort.  This blend is the best selection of each base wine, with a foundation of Cabernet Sauvignon, and the blending components are added one layer at a time.  With Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Merlot,and of course, Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a treat for the senses.  Here, in the LIvermore Valley, you are transported to another place and another time, where the expression of the place is in the glass.

If you go to Livermore, be sure to stop by Steven Kent Winery!  You have your choice between a traditional tasting bar, and a seated reserve tasting with pairings.  In the warmer months, the outdoor seating can be paired with fresh pizza from the oven.  Enjoy!

Special thanks to Steven Mirrassou for his hospital and passion, and for sharing a wonderful afternoon in the reserve room with us.

*Editor’s note: thanks to a corrupt data card, I am missing the pictures of the wonderful food pairing in the reserve room.  you’ll just have to go find out for yourself!

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