One of the many things that has always fascinated me about Sonoma and about the wine scene here is that Sonoma tends to be a place people want to live, as opposed to just a place where people must be located to produce a particular type of wine. Consequently, you tend to find accomplished wine people settling here even though many of their wine interests may take them elsewhere.
Another of the things I’ve concluded after living here more than 20 years is that the people in the wine business tend to be among the nicest, most genuine wine people I’ve met anywhere. Must be something in the water…
One person I can think of who fits both of the observations above (and particularly the second one) is a winemaker who I’m sure you would not recognize if he were standing in line with you at Sonoma Market. His contribution to the world of Pinot Noir is pretty significant both locally and up and down the West Coast and yet he remains mostly anonymous here in town. That person is Kenneth Juhasz.
Juhasz (pronounced Yoo-haaz) is winemaker or consulting winemaker for several wineries: The Donum Estate, Robert Stemmler and Dunstan Wines here in Sonoma as well as Pali Wine Company in the Santa Rita Hills down south. He also is winemaker for Auteur Wines, the winery he owns with his wife Laura Juhasz.
Kenneth and Laura live in Sonoma with their two daughters. At Auteur, their focus is on elegant, expressive Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chardonnays include a Sonoma Coast bottling and vineyard designates from Durell Vineyard and Hyde Vineyard. Pinot Noirs include a Sonoma Coast bottling and vineyard designates from Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Savoy Vineyard in California and Shea Vineyard in Oregon.
A North Carolina native, Kenneth found his passion for wine and Pinot Noir working in restaurants and his local wine shop while in school. Once he finished college, he headed west to pursue that passion for Pinot Noir in the vineyards and cellars of Oregon eventually meeting and working with Ken Bernards (currently owner of Ancien Wines in Napa).
Kenneth came to Carneros in 2002 to work with Ken Bernards on a new project with Anna Moller-Racke called The Donum Estate. Kenneth was instrumental in helping to create in Donum what literally remains one of the consistently finest Pinot Noirs on the West Coast. He became the full-time winemaker there in 2005 and also helped re-shape the Robert Stemmler wines. His work there continues to bring out the very best in the Donum vineyards both in Carneros and in the Russian River Valley.
As consulting winemaker at Pali Wine Company, located in the Santa Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara County, Kenneth has worked with owner Tim Perr and winemaker Aaron Walker to build a truly diverse offering of vineyard designate and appellation blended Pinot Noirs in two very different price tiers. The wines are consistently good and always great values.
Most recently, Kenneth began working with Ellie Phipps Price and Chris Towt at Dunstan Wines at the Durell Vineyard here in Sonoma. Kenneth is helping to shape the really special Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Rose wines coming from that iconic vineyard.
I’d encourage you to try some of Kenneth’s wines when you have the opportunity. I am pretty sure you will be come a fan just as I have.
As always, you can email me with questions at [email protected]
Greg Walter, a Sonoma resident for more than 20 years, has been in wine and food publishing for more than 30 years, 15 of which were spent as a senior editor and later president of Wine Spectator magazine. Today he writes the PinotReport newsletter (Pinotreport.com) and publishes books through his Carneros Press imprint (Carnerospress.com).