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Vineyards,Wine

Kick Ranch Vineyard ~ A Winter Walk with Dick Keenan ~ Kicking it up a Notch

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[All images in this blog posting were taken by Jose Diaz, as Dick Keenan and I walked Kick Ranch on December 9, 2008.]

Each season brings its own wonder to a vineyard… Just ask any viticulturist, and he or she will tell you… Connecting to Mother Nature, during all months of the year, is everything. It’s the reason they’ve either studied vit as a passion and moved into the vines early on in their careers; or, it’s the reason they’ve segued a bit later in life from a well-established vocation into their next. There’s absolutely no way that having a vineyard is merely a hobby, and so vineyardists leave behind being doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs (clergy) to give their undivided attention to their vines, like their children from their own loins.

This is a story about one of those prominent San Francisco trial attorneys, who is now a practicing vineyardist. Dick Keenan [Yale Law] was formerly with Folger Levin & Kahn LLP.

He’s the type of man that when you’re with him and listen to him describing his vineyard practices, you just know that if you ever really needed a great lawyer, he’d be the one you’d call. It was really easy to gather that conclusion from his demeanor and sensibilities about his vineyard practices. In his dealings with those who buy his fruit, his philosophies are so honest and fair that only great wine can come from his vines. Because he’s so honest and fair, Dick Keenan would have made a great judge – a tremendous loss to us all. We are able, however, to taste his sincere methodology in viticulture, and that’s a great trade-off.

[The above images of the remaining old oak tree in the middle of a vineyard addresses how some people create a vineyard with land preservation being a first and foremost act of integrity.]

When we made our way to one of the highest points of elevation on the Keenans’ property (Dick Keenan and Kathy McNamara), Dick took a moment to point out an aged fig tree. He’s almost certain that it dates back to an earlier time on the property that had a homestead on that very spot.

An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, California (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1889) records that Kentucky-born and raised Richard and Sally Fulkerson arrived in Santa Rosa on October 4, 1854, as one of the area’s first pioneer families. They crossed the plains from Perry, Iowa in an ox-drawn wagon. Title records show that Kick Ranch was part of a larger Rincon Valley ranch owned by the Fulkersons’ son, Stephen, who at 18 married Amanda Cockrill, age 15, in Santa Rosa in 1858.

There are remnants on the property from that time, and the Keenans are deeply connected to any history that might have existed before he and Kathy became stewards of this beautiful location in Sonoma County.

The Keenans decided to name their own wine brand Carica Wines, in honor of that hardy fig tree. [Carica is a genus of flowering plants in the family Caricaceae; the hardy fig tree’s botanical name: Ficus carica)]

Established in 2005, with his winemaking partner Charlie Dollbaum, their winemaking philosophy is clearly stated on their Website: “As the consolidation of larger wineries continues, small wineries dedicated to hand crafting single-vineyard wines become harder to find. These are the wines you search out and relish most for their ability to capture a completely unique sense of place and time.” Dick supplies the grapes; and Charlie, his winemaking skills. Their first bottling was a 2005 Sauvignon Blanc.

Today they produce a Carica “Kick Ranch” Sauvignon Blanc and a Carica “Kick Ranch” Syrah. The Sauvignon Blanc is chilling in my refrigerator as I write this, and the Syrah is quietly waiting on my dining room table. With each wine having achieved a 90 point score in Wine Spectator, I’m curious to taste each of them. I’ll later write about that experience.

Now… back to the vineyards, and the reason for this story.

Interesting bulleted facts About Kick Ranch:

  • Began in 1999
  • Location: Rincon Valley, Sonoma County
  • Past present history of the land was a horse and cattle ranch
  • Soil types: It’s situated on an alluvial bench, which has soil with an amazing mix of volcanic and other rock that contributes a rich minerality to wines
  • Little over 41 acres currently planted
  • Main focus at Kick Ranch is for Rhone grape varieties
  • Fruit produced is well suited for hand-crafted wine brands
  • Vines have a north | south orientation

I first met Dick Keenan and his wife Kathy at Kick Ranch during the Wine Bloggers Conference.

This was the location where the opening reception B-B-Q was held. Dick and Kathy cleverly took their names, Kathy + Dick = “Kick,” to establish and distinguish their vineyard property. During the B-B-Q, they greeted all guests as each arrived. The gracious, personal attention for everyone immediately impressed me. I instantly knew that I liked this couple, because they were so sincere. I made a mental note to return when I could get Dick’s undivided attention, because it wouldn’t have been unfair to monopolize him at that time.

I recently called him, and we made a date to walk his vineyards as the winter solstice approached. It was Dick who said, “Let’s do a winter walk.” A winter walk, I thought… Hum, I’ve spent the last 16 years doing spring, summer, and autumn walks, avoiding the barren season. It must be time, as it’ being enticingly offered.

[The above image is of Dick and me, as we descended from the highest pinnacle of his vineyards, for a full view of its on-coming, winter splendor.]

When we (my work and life partner Jose and I) arrived onto the base of his property, Dick began by apologizing that we didn’t have a better season. What he didn’t know was that I was really looking forward to this barren season, because we’d be focusing on things new to me; not the same old layers of canopy that I had seen hundreds of times before, nor the same light filtering though the vines’ process of photosynthesis (the lack of it, though, this time of year), or how the vines are reacting to the trellis system for which they’ve been placed for support. Nay, this was going to be an eye-opening experience… Something that I’m constantly craving; new adventures that bring new knowledge.

Kick Ranch is located on the western side of the northern flank of Spring Mountain, which separates Sonoma and Napa Counties. The ranch’s focus is on sustainable farming practices, with a focus on healthy, balanced vines, tended by one of Sonoma County’s premier vineyard managers.

Some of the wine brands (past & present) that have purchased Kick Ranch’s fruit:

According to Dick Keenan, as he described the creation of Kick Ranch Vineyards, “It’s based on my view that developing a vineyard has a lot of parallels to a law practice – especially a focus on relationships. I’m fortunate to have a highly respected vineyard manager Glenn Alexander, who runs Bacchus Vineyard Management. Glenn’s in charge of the farming at Kick Ranch, and he’s equally lucky to work with a talented group of winemakers. Glenn farms Lynmar’s vineyard and other vineyards that sell fruit to Paul Hobbs, Kosta Browne, Siduri, and others.”

Dick talked about how important these relationships are to the success of Kick Ranch; and, how in making their own Carica wine, he has a better understanding of what his winemaker clients care about in their vineyard. Dick also mentioned and that he and Glenn walk Kick Ranch in the winter to review the growing season, and discuss about how they can improve next year for their winemakers. (In fact, they’re doing just that next Monday.)

The vineyard was very carefully created, from the irrigation up. The very first aspect of creating his ranch was to dig a reservoir, and to channel all free running water into a culvert system that heads toward and feeds the reservoir. His pump house was meticulously crafted to have each vineyard row be controlled by individual valves. This allows individual winemakers to decide how much irrigation each row would get, and when they’d be getting the moisture.

At each turn, we witnessed on the walk the integration of flora a fauna; a bunny scampering through vineyard rows, exotic ducks that were enjoying the reservoir’s serenity, morning doves flutter out of oak tree tops as we climbed steep hills, owl and blue bird boxes. Dick said that he doesn’t restrict wildlife exclusively… But like so many others before him with their vineyards being established, he has had to fence his vineyards in order to restrict deer and wild boar from ravaging his vines. That said, coyotes have still made it into his vineyard, because they leave a telltale history. Coyotes have taken to chewing irrigation lines in order to get water (coy critters, aptly named). Dick seems to think that they also might just like chewing, a pattern similar to their dog cousins’ behavior.

This was an extraordinary day with an amazing land steward, who’s greatest concern is to keep nature in balance while he oversees this plot of land entrusted to him… Kick Ranch.

4 Responses to “Kick Ranch Vineyard ~ A Winter Walk with Dick Keenan ~ Kicking it up a Notch”

  1. winehiker says:

    Yours is a beautiful story of a beautiful couple and a beautiful place, Jo. I’m so glad you shared it with us.

  2. Jo says:

    Wine Hiker,

    Thanks so much for your comments. I loved every part of this story, which began with the Wine Bloggers Conference. As I shared some of it with Dick as I was putting it together, he told me that he could see that I loved writing… Yup, always have; however, it takes a great story to write it as such… You hit the nail on the head… beautiful couple, beautiful place, and what he shared with me was for all to see…

  3. Morgan says:

    Hi there,

    This is the first write-up that does credit to Dick and Kathy and what they have created in Kick Ranch. As a winemaker I am just thrilled to be able to work with them and the site– it is just awesome for Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc– and Dick and Glenn (his vineyard manager) are just working to make it better. What’s more is that this vineyard, planted in 2001, is just entering maturity– its best days are just starting.

    Thanks for the lovely write-up.

    Morgan Twain-Peterson
    Bedrock Wine Co.

  4. Jo says:

    Hello, Morgan,

    As a writer, I’m touched by the comments given to me about this story.

    I write from the heart, which can be easily viewed as “sappy.” I know that each time I write, but I can’t help myself. I tell it like I see it, and have been around the block enough to know that not everyone’s as great as Dick and Kathy are.

    Stay tuned, because the images I thought that I had lost that day that I walked the ranch with him have been found. (I thought I had a technical glitch, but the images were actually stored in another folder.)

    I’m going to published the best five images I got from that day. Maybe your “rows” are in those pictures.

    I don’t know any other grower (I’m sure a few exist, though) who grooms “each” vineyard row for a specific wine buying client… Row by Row… Irrigation drip by irrigation drip, or not.

    How meticulous is that!

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