In 1979, Robert Kamen made a rash decision. The writer had just sold his first screenplay in Hollywood and a six-figure check was burning a hole in his pocket. When a friend brought him to a gorgeous hilltop of Sonoma with unparalleled views of the San Pablo Bay and the outline of San Francisco in the distance, Kamen decided to purchase the land on a whim. Suddenly he owned 300 acres of prime grape-growing terrain on the southeastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountain Range.
Kamen tapped his buddy Phil Coturri, a Jerry Garcia look alike and pioneer of organic viticulture to oversee the vineyards. Both Kamen and Coturri wanted to farm the land with as little intervention as possible using biodynamic techniques; they planted 36 acres with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The region is steep and the soil rocky with prehistoric lava and fractured basalt prominent, so a successful grape-growing venture required caution, expertise, and capital.
With an empty wallet and a farming facility to maintain, Kamen returned to Hollywood and sold a second screenplay. It happened to be for a little movie called The Karate Kid, which was an overnight sensation and cemented Kamen’s role as a heavyweight player in the film industry. Over the next 30 years, Kamen wrote screenplays for A Walk in the Clouds, The Fifth Element, Colombiana, the Taken series, and many more.
In his spare time, he retreated to his house on the top of his property in Sonoma—where locals began to know him as the “crazy man on the mountain.” In 1999 urged by his buddy, chef Jeans-Georges Vongerichten, Kamen decided to make his own wine. His end goal was simple: “I wanted to make wine that was a complete concentration of the essence of growing grapes in the mountains,” Kamen told Haute Living on a recent chilly morning from the winery’s sleek tasting room just off the Sonoma Square. Winemaker Mark Herold joined the Kamen team in 2005 and as they say in showbiz, the rest is history.
Today, Kamen Estate Wines (all grapes are grown on the original 300-acre property) produces four varietals and several blends. Most of the wine is sold direct to consumers at the chic minimalist tasting room in Sonoma. Cab Sav is Kamen’s flagship wine, but they also make Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, and a couple of red blends. The Sav Blanc is one of the best whites we’ve ever sipped with a fruity complex profile and lush creamy body. The Cab Sav is perfectly balanced with a nice earthiness and dark berry flavor. While a flight can be enjoyed at the tasting room, to truly experience all that Kamen has to offer, opt for a tasting that includes a tour of the gorgeous vineyard.
When Kamen hired a marketing director who convinced him to open a tasting room, she wanted it to be on the top of the property, in the exact spot where he decided to purchase the land all those years ago. However, Kamen was adamant about keeping the land private; he didn’t want a circus-like tasting room on site, but he did green light the option to host small mature groups of wine lovers.
The two-hour experience is a unique tour and tasting that lets you enjoy the views that first moved the scriptwriter. Four wines are poured and paired with a delicious local cheese plate. If the man of the hour is on property, he’ll probably stop by and introduce himself. Kamen likes to talk to the people who drink his wine. Ask him whether he considers himself a winemaker or a screenwriter and you may be surprised by his answer. “I consider myself to be one lucky Jew!”