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End of An Era Looms at Kathryn Kennedy Winery

Between owner's recent passing and development pressures, tiny Santa Cruz winery facing tough decisions
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Sep 8, 2009 3:03pm ET

This might be the final bow for Kathryn Kennedy winery.

With owner Kathryn Kennedy’s death this past month, the fate of her namesake vineyard and winery in Silicon Valley is in limbo. The 7-acre vineyard, from which she initially produced Cabernet and later Syrah, is an agricultural island amid sweeping McMansions in the tony town of Saratoga, Calif.

Kennedy planted her vineyard to focus on her favorite wine, Cabernet, but also to keep the developers at bay. Land values were in the league of $2 million-plus per acre, so farming grapes for Kennedy was the ultimate labor of love.

Kennedy, who died Aug. 23 at the age of 82, was candid about the future of her winery. She knew that once she died, the value of the land for her heirs would exceed that of the winery, which produces about 1,000 cases a year from the property.

"Planting the vineyard was just an attempt to hold on to the land and make it pay for itself," Kennedy told my colleague Tim Fish, who wrote about her and other vintners from the Santa Cruz Mountains. "I didn't go into the business for it to endure for generations. I was a single mom raising four kids. For me it was a matter of expediency."

Hers was a compelling story on many levels. Her passion for wine led to her studying viticulture at the University of California, Davis, and ultimately planting a vineyard. Her favorite wine was Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what she planted, and for me the early wines were the most exciting, made in a rich, fleshy style that captured the loamy earthy personality of the Santa Cruz Mountains. She produced about 600 cases of estate Cabernet along with 400 cases of Syrah and added a California appellation red table wine called Lateral.

Her son and winemaker Marty Mathis said that when his mother died, the vineyard and winery would likely be gone as well. When I called the winery today, no one answered the phone; likely the harvest is on and everyone’s busy with what might well be the final vintage.

That’s unfortunate, since Silicon Valley once had a rich heritage of winemaking, but many of its vineyards were lost before state zoning laws helped protect agriculture and encourage growers to keep their land in areas such as Saratoga, Napa or Sonoma counties. Winegrowing is an important part of Santa Clara history, one that should be embraced and not forgotten. But whenever you uproot a vineyard for development, it’s the final act. There’s no turning back.

John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  September 11, 2009 1:56pm ET
Would someone please spin the old Joni Mitchell licorice disc, put up a parking lot? I grew up in San Jose and remember the vineyards, the prunes and plums, the cherries . . . Silicone Valley is a nice place, but it was better back then.
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  September 14, 2009 5:35pm ET
Jim Gallagher
Jim Gallagher —  September 17, 2009 4:20pm ET
The commercial and residential development of prime agricultural land in Santa Clara and particularly around Saratoga is very sad for those who were fortunate to have tasted fruit grown there, such as apricots, plums and cherries. The estate wines of Kathryn Kennedy reflected that luxuriant character. The only positive I can think of in the terms of the loss of such fine land, was the impetus to enact an "agriculture preserve" and protect the Napa Valley from such a fate.
Brian Peters
Broomfield, CO —  September 19, 2009 9:34am ET
I always enjoyed the Lateral wines...such a shame.
Tim Ballard
Gilroy Ca —  October 19, 2009 3:16pm ET
My grandparent's farm neighbored Kathryn's place. I can vividly remember her planting those vines in 1973 and hearing my grandfather state "she'll not likely make a dime off that vineyard". See he was a fruit tree farmer and tractor mechanic for 50 yrs in early Santa Clara Valley. But Kathryn made that label successful- along with her son Marty's skills not only at winemaking, but grape growing. Who did Marty entrust with that vineyard?? Only himself. Knowing and nurturing practically every vine for vintage after vintage. Marty Mathis has mentored many winemakers in this area, much the same as Paul Draper at Ridge has. Something you don't really find in the high tech industry ;-) Rest In Peace Kathryn.

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