All the other boys wanted to be famous when they grew up. Not Kent Humphrey. Thoughtfully forecasting the everyday realities—pawing fans, staffing headaches, the responsibility—he knew it wasn't for him. Happily, not particularly famous is how we find him today, at the far end of a labyrinthine wine cellar with 40 feet of barrel room to his name. Although this custom-crush facility functions somewhat like a co-op, it houses a profusion of individual, boutique brands which, like many vintners these days, often pick from the very same vineyards. Fame aside, it begs the question: How, indeed, does this youthful new crop of latter-day, two-barrel Mondavis ever hope to get noticed?
Team up with some little-known artists, for one. Each Eric Kent label features and supports an artist's unique work, be it painting, digital collage or photography. And we're not talking tame old vineyards-and-sunshine business. "We just haven't figured out how to fasten music to the bottle yet," Humphrey jokes.
Tasting here is straight out of the barrel, an illuminating comparison of different lots—floral with pine needles, fleshy and round, or with apple pie spice—that will comprise the final blend. The style here is coastal, fresh and easy on the oak. The 2008 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($40) is a thinking man's blonde Burgundian (says I—although an advertising copywriter before becoming a mad man of wine, Humphrey qualifies, after apologizing in advance, for using terms like "Burgundian"), a golden apple dipped in caramel, with what the geeks call a crushed limestone finish. Caramelized apple plus toasted pastry, the fuller-bodied 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($40) is what nobody but me calls "softly crisp."
Dusted with Mexican chocolate, the 2008 Stiling Vineyard Pinot Noir ($42) lays down big, fresh black cherry flavors fused with vanilla, and then keeps on going: fresh-squeezed, lovely fruit with no heat and no weediness. The 2008 Small Town Pinot Noir ($48) cues damp forest floor, grape and brambleberry jelly; while the 2008 Dry Stack Vineyard Syrah ($40) leads with wild berries, then piles on huge, blackberry cobbler à la mode flavors throughout the chunky, dry finish.
Released just twice a year, these wines often sell out before the next, through a "highly customizable" wine club that makes it easy for members to try it out, even for a few bottles. Just so long as they don't get too famous, too soon.
Eric Kent Wine Cellars, 1014 Hopper Ave., Santa Rosa. Barrel tastings by appointment only. See website for local retailers. 707.527.9700. www.erickentwines.com.