Tor Kenward | Food and drink in Napa Valley with TOR Wines
With decades of experience in Napa Valley, Tor Kenward watched him flourish in the bustling wine region and now the foodie mecca it is today.
Jor Kenward is not your ordinary Napa Valley winemaker – he has traveled nearly 50 years through the burgeoning wine industry, from the mid-70s when there were less than 50 wineries in Napa, to today with over 400 wineries in the region today.
In his new book, Reflections of a Winemaker: Stories and Seasonal Wisdom from a Lifetime Napa ValleyKenward shares his experience of watching Napa Valley become a world-class wine destination. He also shares stories with legends like Julia Child, Andy Beckstoffer, Robert Mondavi and his good friend Thomas Keller. It was ICONIC Keller and Child who worked with Kenward to make Napa Valley a foodie’s dream destination, too.
As an ICONIC winemaker today with its own TOR wines, Kenward has written, taught and lectured about wine for most of his adult life. Nor did he come from a family with a wine background – he pursued his successful career in wine based on his own passion.
“I was going to college at University of California, took a quarter to be a backpacker in the Sierras, and came back on an invitation to go to Vietnam from the government,” Kenward says. “I did Vietnam for a year and then came back with a wish that the rest of my life would be really focused on projects that really move the needle for me personally.”
He then started a popular jazz club in Southern California in the late 60s, where Kenward met many eminent people who were truly passionate about wine and food.
“I became like a lot of people, very obsessed with it, so I had to read all there was and befriend people who had a few wine stores in Southern California and they asked me to go to Northern California to find out what was happening in Napa and Sonoma at the time,” he says.
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After hiring a hugely popular jazz pianist to play a few shows at his club, Tor saved up enough money to travel to wine country.
“It left me enough money, which was only a few thousand dollars at the time, in my back pocket to go and throw it all in the car and see if anyone wanted to hire me in the Napa Valleysays Kenward. “I got a call from the winery two days later saying we have a job for you. I took the job and was there for about 25 years. It was like stepping on a rocket and the world completely changed around me, and certainly my world.
He was hired at Beringer vineyardsthe oldest winery in California, of which he became vice-president after a few years.
“My unofficial title was ‘Vice President in charge of all the fun’ because they sent me to Europe every year to sit and study winemaking with greats from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Spain and Portugal , and from Italy of course, and I got paid for it, which was mind-boggling,” Kenward says. “And then I came back and worked with the winemaking team to shape the private reserve programs and other high-end programs for the wineries we were building and buying at the time.”
“I got a call from the winery two days later saying we have a job for you. I took the job and was there for about 25 years. It was like stepping on a rocket and the world completely changed around me, and certainly my world.
Melanson Vineyard – Bob McClenahan
While at Beringer, Kenward saw Napa Valley amended and grew up in the bustling wine scene it is today.
“His Disneyland for foodies and wine, wine and food lovers,” he says.
There has been a food revolution in the region, which has become a Mecca not only for great wines, but also for excellent cuisine.
“Julia Child became a good friend of mine and I spent a lot of time with her,” he says. “His love for French cuisine is obviously legendary, and rightly so. She, along with a handful of others, started the American Institute of Wine and Foodstarted in the early 80s, and she asked me to be on the board.
Tor Kenward at Vine Hill Ranch – Mark Hartman
“It was a really interesting piece of advice made up of very influential people in the food industry at the time, but you see that from the first waves crashing on the shore and changing things,” he said. added.
After gaining valuable experience at Beringer and seeing the wine brand go public and transfer between different owners, Kenward started his own winery.
“I was able to do what I always wanted to do and started my own winery,” says Kenward. “It’s interesting when I think about it and I feel lucky that it took me so long to be able to do it financially because it gave me an education that I could never afford, 25 to 30 years of experience in the wine industry.”
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Melanson Vineyard – Bob McClenahan
Today, TOR wines embraces Kenward’s four decades of experience in Napa Valley to understand exactly what makes great wine, with a focus on single-vineyard Cabernet, Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines, cuvées and Bordeaux varietals. To share the taste of TOR winesthe winery is offering a holiday gift set that includes a copy of Kenward’s book, a bottle of Tierra Roja 2019, and a bottle of Oakville 2019, priced at $300, available for purchase through Gary’s Wine & Marketplace.
When a reviewer rates a wine with 100 points, it means they thought the wine was absolutely perfect. This makes it a very rare unicorn in the world of fine wine. TOR wines received ten scores of 100 points.
In 2021, the team that organized the original 1976 Paris tasting decided to once again pit French Bordeaux against great wines from outside Bordeaux. This tasting was again blind and the judges were selected on their experience and expertise. When the wines were judged and revealed, the #1 Bordeaux blend red was the TOR 2016 Beckstoffer To Kalon.
“It was extremely heartwarming, because I had a lot of my peers in the same room, so it was fun to share this moment with a lot of my neighbors and friends and fellow winemakers,” he says.
If you are heading towards Napa Valley To taste good wine, Kenward recommends seeing only two in a day and focusing on smaller, harder-to-find wines.
“Study small independents,” he says. “In fact, meet the winemakers, meet the owners of these properties, try to understand what their passion was and why they did what they did to get involved.”