Blue Rock is located in the Alexander Valley next door to Silver Oak Winery. The hillside vineyard, consisting of 46 acres, was replanted in 1982 to the 5 Bordeaux varietals. In 1993, an additional 3 acres of Beaucastle-clone Syrah were planted in the hills. The ancient olive trees are beautiful and still produce tiny amounts of organic oil.
Bordeaux varietals are adaptable to many soil and climate conditions but develop great character and longevity in relatively few locations. Blue Rock is blessed with cool mornings and warm days that make it one of those special places where Bordeaux varietals develop clarity and finesse. The vineyard elevation is between 300 and 600 feet above the valley floor. As a result, the soils are shallow, generally no more than 18 inches deep, before the roots hit a layer of clay and serpentine rock. The vines are small and densley planted producing yields that average a modest 2.5 tons per acre. Further complexity is derived from the multiplicity of root stocks and clones.
From an interview with Nikitas Magel.
NM: What was your inspiration for starting a business in the wine industry?
KK: I really got into the business because I loved wine as a consumer. In the early ’80s, when I was in Memphis, I had a neighbor, an older man named Milton Picard. ‘Pic,’ as we called him, had been collecting Bordeaux and great California wine since the ’30s. His collection of wines got to the point where he couldn’t drink them all, so he had the choice to either sell them or drink them with other people. So, after he sort of tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to learn about wine, we would go over to his house and he’d pull out First Growth Bordeaux from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Some of them, I swear to you, had $2 price tags on them! And through that, he really turned me on to great wine. Right about the same time, my wife and I starting taking cooking classes together (although she was already a great cook). And it all just came together: the food, the wine, the lifestyle. Plus, I love design and my wife is a painter. Now, today, as a consumer, I still love wine. Making wine, I understand what goes into the process and I know the technologies, but I don’t let that get in the way of actually enjoying wines. I have a cellar that’s not a collector’s cellar, it’s a drinker’s cellar: I’ll buy off-vintages of Bordeaux, like 2004, because I’m going to drink them, not give them to my kids. I’ve also been drinking a lot of Italian wines, and really learning about Barolos and Barbarescos. Of course, I love California wines, but I drink much less California Cabernet than anything else, because I’m making it. I will drink it because I want to know what my peers are doing.
But I also got into the wine business because it’s a creative outlet for me. While my wife and I were living in Memphis, we decided that we wanted to pursue this as a dream. It was my dream, really, more so than hers; her dream was to come out to California because she loved the environment here so much. So, in 1979 we decided on making the move. But it took a few years, since there were detours along the way — like children! — so we actually made the move in 1985. Then in 1998, Bank of New York bought the firm I was with, and I stayed with them for another five years. But the whole time I was there, I kept dreaming about Blue Rock! And it really got the point where, to be fair to them since I was spending so much of my energy on developing the vineyard and the winery and the business here, it became right for me to leave and pursue this full-time.
NM: This was a significant shift, then; it became your second career! How has that been for you, going from one to the other? — especially given that I can’t think of two more vastly different industries!
KK: There’s actually a great deal of similarity. A lot of people, on learning what’s involved, are surprised over the nature of the business in running a winery or managing a vineyard. For me, it was like a Ferrari shifting from second to third gear; it was really effortless. And that’s because I established Blue Rock in 1987: I started as a winegrower, developed the vineyards, and then sold grapes to other wineries while I worked full-time in the brokerage business [in San Francisco]. I had great consultants whom I was learning from and who were working with me in the vineyard. At that point, although it was a serious hobby, it was still part time; I would come out here on the weekends. But even when I decided to go full-time, I was able to transition over very easily, because it’s really very similar to what I was doing at Bank of New York: it’s a business that I’m running, which has a production side, sales, marketing, finance, and really all of the same elements that I dealt with in the brokerage business. It’s all about building relationships with customers and exceeding expectations. Other than the product itself, there’s really not that many differences.
NM: You were clearly very fortunate, because it sounds like there wasn’t a long or arduous period of adjustment.
“I was spending so much of my energy on developing the vineyard and winery, it became right for me to leave and pursue this full-time.”
KK: It was all planned! This has been a 25-year strategic plan that we implemented. Soon after we bought the property, we started to replant it. We then started dreaming about renovating the house and the winery, which were first built in 1880 and had been a complete wreck! So, I worked and made money to finance the restoration and replanting, which we did in phases, maintaining my job because it required a tremendous amount of cash to replant the vineyards, especially with the way we’re farming here. We sold grapes for many years to other wineries, so we had the opportunity to taste the fruit from this vineyard with the other wineries who were making the wine. In doing so, we learned that it was really unique and special. Then in 1999, we decided to go full-time, as per our long term plan. We hired Nick Goldschmidt who, at the time, was the head winemaker at Simi, so he knew Alexander Valley. And he also makes very elegant wines using a style of winemaking that I’m very attracted to as a consumer. When we made the wine, we did so on a virtual basis: we used our grapes but we took them over to Trentadue [Winery] down the road and did a custom crush there. But once we rebuilt the original 1880s-era winery here, after buying our own crush equipment, we were able to do everything here and have control over it ourselves.
The name Blue Rock comes from our soils, which are studded with blue pebbles, rocks, and boulders of serpentine. The serpentine rock defines the unique flavor profile of the vineyard, as serpentine naturally reduces the yields to very low levels. Today, the very best vineyards are planted on devigorating rootstocks in order to improve the flavor and density, something that comes naturally to Blue Rock.