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June 20-26, 2007

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Wine Tasting

Kaz Vineyard & Winery

By James Knight


I had just stepped through the sliding cellar door when Ryan Kaz turned out the lights and plunged the tasting room into darkness. Two light sabers glowed red and blue in front of me. As the opponents parried and thrust their sabers, the air crackled with electric sizzles and at least a few giggles. Who would declare "Now I am the master!" let alone have a go at the requisite metallic breathing? Alas, these were only dueling wine geeks--but they had clearly come to enjoy one of the unexpected moments one expects in the realm of Kaz, where the main trade is as much a cult of personality as cult wine.

Before becoming the president-for-life of the two-acre commonwealth of Kazzystan, Richard Kasmier was a commercial photographer. Some wily muse then directed him to his real life's work, which is evidently operating the smallest family winery open to the public in the Sonoma Valley. Besides whatever new toys are on hand, the tasting room has more conventional sundries like mustard, hot sauce, T-shirts and posters in which "the Kaz," looking like a deranged Shakespearean rep player, self-promotes in various guises. In winemaking, Kaz plays fast and loose with oddball grape varietals, creating why-not blends like Sangiofranc (why not Super Francan?). His motto is "No harm in experimenting."

(At this point, I ought to mention that Swirl 'n' Spit's rigorous standards of journalistic integrity demand full disclosure: I swear to the committee that neither my past relationship in selling grapes to Kaz nor the couple of bottles he floated my way influence this recommendation in any way. Take it with a grain of salt or half a ton of Zin, as you wish.)

Once finished with his swordplay, Kasmier's son Ryan poured us a weird bird. The 2006 Trixie's Secret Nebbiola Rosa ($18) has a what-the-heck taste like a meaty red wine, but finishes light and fresh. It was fermented on the skins, but it wanted so much to be a rosé that Kaz went with the flow. The brand-new 2006 Slide Chardonnay, reminiscent of peanut brittle, goes down caramelly smooth. Besides a note of clove, 2004 Red Said Fred ($38) has the hallmarks of many Kaz reds--tangy acidity and shy tannins that trick the tongue into sensing sweetness; Kaz's organic, low-sulfite winemaking results in fulsome liqueur aromas.

At eight barrels, the mother of all releases, the 2004 Outbound Cab Franc ($35) has a nostalgic barrel-room aroma and blackberry juiciness. Likewise, the juicy 2003 Champs Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) is not your typical Cab but for its eucalyptus hints. Perennial favorite 2002 ZAM (made from Zinfandel, Alicante and Mourvedre) ($65) is a big, brambly blend from the Pagani vineyard. Kaz doesn't hesitate to own up that it's made from second-crop grapes--it's more like a sequel. And speaking of sequels, Kaz also releases a trilogy of ports--White, Blush And Red--under a second label, the Bodega Bay Portworks. Clearly, the force is with him.


Kaz Vineyard & Winery, 233 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood. Tasting room open Friday-Monday, 11am to 5pm. $5 tasting fee. 877.833.2536.


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