Eric Kent : Artistry In & On the Bottle
About 18 months ago, I first wrote about Eric Kent Wine Cellars (PinotFile, Volume
5, Issue 36). Paul Root, of Root’s Cellar (a fine wine retailer in Healdsburg), first
turned me onto this producer, and since then Eric Kent has become quite a noteworthy
I must inform you, however, there really 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, savored, 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
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.”
The labels for vintages 2003 (top), 2004 (center) and 2005 (bottom) Eric Kent Stiling Vineyard Pinot Noir
are shown below. The artists are from top to bottom, Erik Jacobsen, Kevin Keul, and Darin Fenn. For
more information on the artists, visit the Eric Kent website at www.erickentwines.com.
2005 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Sonoma County Rosé
14.4% alc., $19
Pale orange in color. Intriguing
nose of orange peel and pear with a whisper of heat. Clean and crisp on the palate with flavors of citrus
and berries. Perfectly fine.
2005 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
15.1% alc., 225 cases,$35. The artist on the
label (right, below), is Francis Berry. It depicts two nudes cleverly covered up and being observed by
a fellow with a colorful fedora. The artist says it “weaves together tragicomic humor and spontaneity.”
The aromatic profile here is more austere with mineral, tropical fruit and citrus notes. The texture is more
creamy with less prominent acidity. Crème brulee and oak are present but subtle. This doesn’t have the
punch of the Russian River Valley bottling, but will be a better match with food. The alcohol is so well integrated
that it adds structure without being intrusive.
2005 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.9% alc., 250 cases, $36.25.
Mary Black is the artist on the label (left, below). The hot wax based artwork was created on several
layers of paper and wax which created many levels of texture and color. Her work mirrors her interest
in Jungian psychology, whatever that is. Most of the fruit is from the Stiling Vineyard.
This is a terrific
Chardonnay with a lovely nose of butter (100% MLF), lemon and roasted nuts. There is a plenty of toasty
oak, citrus and crème brulee flavors and the finishing acidity is on point. A meal in itself.
2005 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 300
cases, $38.25. Darin Fenn’s label is a black and white photograph taken with a hand held 35 mm camera
and not changed in any way. It features a winter skating rink in Budapest. You will notice that some
of the skaters’ images are blurred by motion while the observers are clearly outlined.
are a little funky on lift off, but then become quite interesting with dark cherries, spice-particularly cinnamon,
oak notes and a hint of coconut. Cherries, spice and herbs compose the flavors which are presented
on a soft and elegant platform. The finish is clean and refreshing. The whole package is harmonious.
Note: Kent feels this wine will reach an even better drinking window given another 6 -12 months.
2004 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.2% alc., 250
cases, $35. Don Stiling left his corporate career and planted a 35-acre vineyard on Goldridge loamy
soil in the Russian River Valley in 1986. Vineyard manager Jesus Garcia has assisted the Stilings for 14
years overseeing the vineyard. Kent’s wine is sourced from two different vineyard blocks, one hillside
and one on the valley floor. The grapes are primarily a field selection of Swan clone. 75% of the
grapes were de-stemmed, but not crushed, and placed on top of the remaining 25% whole cluster
fruit. The wine was aged for 14 months in 60% new French oak.
An appealing nose of darker fruits especially
plum with vanillin highlights. With some air time, the initially shallow fruit takes on shoulder pads
and struts out brutish dark berry and current flavors tinged with oak and herbs. The wine is well-rounded
and mellow with some alcoholic heat peeking out on the finish after a time in the glass.
In the future, Kent will be introducing an additional Pinot Noir from the Windsor Oaks Vineyard in the
Russian River Valley. Kent expects his two Pinot Noir bottlings to be quite distinct from one another.
He is also thrilled with the line-up of 2006 label artists.
Eric Kent Wine Cellars is located in Santa Rosa, CA. The wines are produced at a Santa Rosa custom
crush facility. 707-527-9700. Members of the winery’s E/K Direct Club receive 20-25% discounts. Join
the club at www.erickentwines.com. Demand has increased markedly in the last year (the 2005 vintage
is completely sold out) and most all of the wine is now sold to E/K Direct Club members. This is
so Kent can guarantee that all new club members can order up to a half a case of any or all the wines as
part of their pre-release club shipments. There is still some retail and restaurant distribution. Paul
Root at Root’s Cellars in Healdsburg receives an allocation each year as well - join his e-mail list at
www.rootscellar.com. The 2006 Stiling Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Sonoma Coast
and Russian River Valley Chardonnay will be released in late March or early April, 2008. The two
Syrahs will follow in mid-October of the same year. I believe the bottles/art work will become collectables.