Kemiji has poured wine at The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton for eight years. Stone has created Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine lists at Rubicon, where he has worked for the past six years, and at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago before that.
Miura Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley 1997 (91, $44) is an impressive debut for Kemiji. Made from grapes grown at Talley Vineyards, the wine shows finesse and elegance, a flinty core and hints of pear, apple and melon flavors.
The label refers to a famous breeder of Spanish fighting bulls. "It signifies to me nobility, power and boldness," said Kemiji, who grew up in Spain before coming to California at age 15.
The budding winemaker began making small, noncommercial lots of wine in 1994. "Guys like Larry Stone would come over to the house and say, 'This is pretty good. Can you sell me some?'"
Comments such as Stone's inspired Kemiji to go commercial in 1997. He bought grapes from various sources and made his wines in rented space at Rombauer Vineyards in Napa Valley. Because he has no formal winemaking training, Kemiji is working closely with his consultant, former high-school friend Byron Kosuge, winemaker at Saintsbury in Napa Valley.
Two more Miura Chardonnays from 1997 will be released later this year. In 1998, Kemiji added Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to the brand. Eventually, he plans to make Pinot Noir as well.
The new label is not just a sideline for the sommelier, who will leave The Ritz-Carlton in mid-August to embark on a full-time winemaking career. "I'm going to focus totally on Miura," Kemiji said.
Stone is following a similar path, although he has no current plans to abandon his post at Rubicon. "I love the work I do in the restaurant," he noted.
Sirita is named for Stone's 9-year-old daughter, Siri, who designed the label. Sirita Merlot Napa Valley 1997 (87, $24) and Sirita Merlot Sonoma County 1997 (85, $26) are Stone's first solo releases. In 1993 and 1994, he produced a now-discontinued negociant label called Deux Chapeaux with New York sommelier Daniel Johnnes.
The Sirita wines are also negociant blends made from various wines purchased in bulk. However, Stone hopes to buy a vineyard within five years and ultimately cover the full range of winemaking.
"My dad was a produce buyer at the Pike Place Market in Seattle," he recalled. "He got me interested in food. Wine was a natural extension of that interest, and I started making wine at home when I was 14."
Stone also is releasing a Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997, which has not yet been reviewed by Wine Spectator. In 1998, he made only one wine -- a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. "For the moment, my identity will focus on Bordeaux varietals," he said. "I'm more concerned with quality than varietal consistency."
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