Monday, August 22, 2011

8/22-Michael Horn talks with Kent Humphrey & Sharon Harris


Kent Humphrey Winemaker & Owner of Eric Kent Wine Cellars

The label says Eric Kent but there is no Eric Kent. “Eric” is owner Kent Humphrey’s middle name and “Kent” is his first name. Being on the humble side, Kent just could not bear to be blatantly eponymous. He also could not imagine people in a toney restaurant asking the sommelier for a bottle of “Humphrey” Pinot Noir. So, he inverted his first and middle names and his “nom de vin” came to be. In addition, designing a logo with

two nice, short words seemed a good way to go.

Kent grew up in California around a family table that enjoyed wine. His college path, however, was not initially wine, but rather the PhD program at University of California Berkeley in French (happily with a full ride as a Regent’s Fellow). He soon opted out of academia and pursued a job in advertising. He started his own agency and the company grew to more than fifty people. That experience gave him an in-depth look at big companies - their politics, creative accounting, and inherent failure to put people first. Kent’s youthful idealism was decimated in the end and the work nearly “sucked the joy out of life.” During these ten years of real-life experiences, he sampled, savor

ed, collected and delighted in wine. When he finally decided to leave the advertising world, his friends and family encouraged him to seek a career in wine.

Initially he considered attending University of California Davis for winemaking training, but realized that many of the wines he most admired were made by people who had no formal training in wine. So he sought some hands-on experience and worked at two different winery facilities. A couple of years later, he was offered the chance to obtain some really classy fruit from top-notch vineyards. While a year earlier than he had planned, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity and Eric Kent Wine Cellars was born. Kent chose to make Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah since these were the varietals that gave him the most personal pleasure. He produced 375 cases in the inaugural 2003 vintage. He has since reached nearly 2,000 cases a year. Given his run-in with big business, he still plans to stay small with growth stopping between 3,000 and 4,000 cases. The plan for that buildup is sensibly paced and he is content to take whatever time is necessary to do it well.

Kent and his wife, Colleen, an accomplished artist, decided one day over a dinner of burgers and Zinfandel to showcase artists on their bottles. The two work in harmony, she assisting him in making blending decisions and he helping her in choosing the individual art works that grace the bottles of Eric Kent wines. Kent and Colleen freelance as an art director/copywriter team to help pay for their winemaking project.

The works of art that are part of the front label of every Eric Kent wine are quite striking. The art is from deserving, but as yet undiscovered talent. Each artist brings a unique vision that compliments the spirit behind the wines. With every vintage, a portion of the wine sales is donated to help support the work of struggling artists. As Paul Root so aptly put it, “The wines speak for themselves and the labels add another dimension to the wine by creating a built-in discussion with every cork pulled.”

Sharon Harris - Rarecat Wines

I FELL IN LOVE WITH WINE IN BORDEAUX WHEN I WAS 20 YEARS OLD, A TIME WHEN I WAS OBSESSED WITH SPEAKING FRENCH AND LIVING ABROAD. BORDEAUX WAS NOT WHERE I WANTED TO STUDY BUT FATE INTERVENED AND THAT'S WHERE I WENT.

Although there to study French, I learned everything important in life through my experiences in Bordeaux: an appreciation of fine food and wine, and a joie de vivre one gets from sharing those things with friends.

Most people have long lists of accolades that define their life’s successes. For me, it is quite the opposite, my successes have been a result of fortuitous introductions, the ability to make ideas happen, and a willingness to try new things. My love of food and wine directly stem from naive gumption, charm, and a desire to learn, all of which led me to my first wine experience at Haut Brion, then to living with France’s most famed cheese making family, and to a cooking internship under the wings of Amat, a famous 2 star chef in Bordeaux, my first fine culinary experience.

I have had the desire to be in the wine industry for decades, but getting to Napa Valley has been like taking windy back roads more than efficient toll roads. I spent many years working in executive positions in publishing, advertising, and technology, luckily very successfully, before earning the ability to trade computers for vineyards.

Recently, the hardest thing I have accomplished is graduating with honors from the Universite de Bordeaux’s famed D.U.A.D. program, a technical oenology diploma taught in French. I now live in Napa Valley, married with two great kids. My passion is building connections between the women of Napa Valley and Bordeaux and the rest of the world. Our family co-owns Amici Cellars. Rarecat is my first rare beauty.

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