Robert Keenan always had a hunch that Napa’s mountain vineyards had the potential to produce some of its greatest wines. In 1974 he decided to see if he was right, purchasing 180 acres on Spring Mountain to found Keenan Winery. The site wasn’t new — it included the Peter Conradi Winery, first planted in the 19th century — but it had been in decline since Prohibition and needed serious redevelopment. 40 years later, Robert’s hunch has proven to be true beyond all doubt. Keenan’s superb Cabernets are draped in mountain glory.
The winery and vineyards are located about 1,700 feet up on Spring Mountain, next door to Philip Togni and just down the road from Paloma, Schweiger, Pride, and Vineyard 7 & 8. There are four different vineyard zones on the irregularly shaped property, with the steeply pitched parcels intermingled with forests. According to Robert’s son Michael, who now heads up the family winery, the soils are “officially Olympic and Aiken loam, but it’s basically rock.” These well-drained, vine-stressing rocky soils combine with the unique climate high above the valley floor to give the Keenan wines their unique character.
The first Keenan vintage was produced in 1977, making the winery one of the early players in Napa’s modern boom. Since then Keenan has developed an excellent track record for producing solid, well-made wines with a muscular character rooted in their mountain origins. There is also a certain polish to match, a more “old school” approach, that manifests itself beautifully in the finished wines. They are structured but not hard, classic but not at all rustic, solid, nicely honed and focused with power and class. Michael Keenan makes all final winemaking decisions, assisted by a team that has largely been together since 1995. On his roster is winemaker Nils Venge, who has consulted at Keenan since 1994 and is officially recognized around the winery as CWW/FLG (Certified Wine Wizard/Frequent Lunch Guest).
Michael considers the trio of recent vintages some of the best he has seen in his long tenure here. He noted, “2014 is some of the best Cabernet ever — in 2013 it was the Merlot, and everything was perfect in 2012.” Given the rock-solid team Michael has in place, and with some recently replanted vineyards now reaching maturity, I think we can expect to see more of the same from this pioneering winery as it enters its fifth decade on Spring Mountain.