(This entry marks a milestone for The Naked Vine -- it's our 100th wine review. So thanks to all of you out there in Vine-land for your readership, for your encouragement, and for your friendship over the last three years. It's been a heck of a ride thus far...)
Tucked away in a modest, quiet neighborhood in the river town of Ripley, Ohio, is Kinkead Ridge Winery. The estate winery, cleverly disguised as a one-story ranch style house, is the brainchild of Ron Barrett and Nancy Bentley -- a pair of transplants from Oregon, where they grew pinot noir for a number of years. They relocated to southern Ohio in 1999 and dropped roots, literally and figuratively.
I'm usually fairly skeptical of "local" wineries. There's a reason that the "best" winemaking operations tend to cluster in certain areas. While there are grapes that will grow in almost any climate, I can't tell you how much bitter Chambourcin and Norton, overly sweet Cayuga or Concord, and heavily charred Chardonel we've tried in many of these little places. (Perhaps there's a method for making those wines taste good. If there is, I've yet to find it consistently applied.)
There are no worries on that front from Nancy & Ron. The wines grown at Kinkead Ridge are all vinifera grapes. They grow primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Viognier, and Riesling. Smaller quantities of Petit Verdot, Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc fill out the mix. They also have an "experimental" section of the vineyard where Ron, a former electrical engineer before becoming a vintner, experiments with Merlot, Gamay Noir, Dolcetto, Sangiovese and Semillon.
How do they manage to grow all this vinifera? It's the soil, Nancy says: "We looked at a lot of different places when we decided to leave Oregon. We looked in California, Washington, other places in Oregon -- and we found that the soil of the land we found was exactly what we were looking for. The soil composition on the ridge is almost identical to St. Emilion in France -- not the clay cap that you find down in the river valley."
Ron's scientific bent also comes heavily into play. "You have to keep a close eye on a lot of these vines. We've got great terroir here, but the big drawback for us is the variation in temperature and climate. In 2007, we had a frost around Easter that nearly wiped out the vineyard. We were able to salvage the cabernet, but the syrah was completed ruined, and we lost most of our Viognier and Riesling. Hazards of the occupation." When the vines are able to mature, however, the winery has the capacity to produce about 2000 cases a year -- with increased production on the way, if all goes well. As the vines continue to mature, the yield with undoubtedly increase and the quality should improve as well.
Not that there's much wrong with the quality of the wines as they currently stand. One of the hallmarks of many local wineries I've found is, on the rare occasion that one of them makes a wine of note -- the price is often two to three times what you'd pay for a comparable wine from a "known" region. Kinkead Ridge, however, has a price point for all of its wines between $10-20, and these wines are, in my estimation, about as good for those styles as you would find "normally."
Ron and Nancy release their whites every year on Memorial Day weekend and their reds on Labor Day weekend. The Sweet Partner in Crime and I took the scenic drive down US 52 to Ripley this weekend to try their spread of whites.
Kinkead Ridge 2008 River Village Cellars Traminette -- Traminette is a hybrid of Gewurztraminer, and a friend of Ron's said that she had a couple of tons available for sale. He picked them up and, unfortunately, found that some of the grapes had already begun to raisinate. He cobbled together an interesting, semi-sweet, eminently drinkable wine from the ton and a half he was able to use. Plenty of traditional gewürztraminer pepperiness to be found therein, lots of floral notes, and a surprisingly fresh finish. For about $10, a very nice sipping wine or a nice pairing for spicy Asian cuisine.
Kinkead Ridge 2008 Riesling -- My personal favorite of the four whites that we tried. Reminiscent of a German spatlese to me -- slightly sweet (1.2% residual sugar -- or at least that was Ron's self-described "SWAG" -- short for scientific wild-ass guess...) but full of really pleasant apple and pear flavors. Crisp acidity on the finish and a lasting fruit flavor that begs for some roast pork loin or a meat and cheese tray. A very flexible wine for all seasons. $14.
Kinkead Ridge 2008 White Revelation -- One of the flagship white wines of Kinkead Ridge, the blend on this white cuvee changes every year. This year, it's largely Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with a hodgdpodge of other grapes thrown in for good measure. The wine certainly reflects the character of the grapes -- and it drinks very much like a decent white Bordeaux. Acidic and minerally from front to back, it's a nice accompaniment for anything from salads to grilled chicken. Great summer wine. $14.
Kinkead Ridge 2008 Viognier/Roussanne -- Of the four, this one was probably my least favorite on its face, because I think it's still a little too young. That's not to say it was bad -- far from it. One of the customers had brought in a bottle of the 2006 Viognier/Roussane, and the difference was remarkable. This one needs a little time in the bottle, maybe even a couple more months, for the flavors to marry and balance and for the slight oiliness of the Viognier to die down, but the backbone of tropical fruits and aromatics were certainly there. Pick up a bottle and stash it until fall. Then have it with some grilled fish. You'll thank me. $16.
The tasting room is open most Saturdays during the summer from 11:00-5:00. For more information about Kinkead Ridge, the winery, their story, and how to get there if you're interested in making a weekend road trip down to the Ohio River, check out their website at http://www.kinkeadridge.com