A few weeks ago a fellow blogger suggested we stop by and meet 5th generation winemaker, Ryan Kunde of DRNK Wines at his little winery, hidden off a dirt road in the Pinot Noir centric Russian River Valley. The wines were fantastic and the one on one tasting with Ryan in his winery cave is not to be missed. Read More Here. This is a young man with a famous wine surname who is about to make a big name for himself. Meet Ryan Kunde…
B&BWine Blog: Who do you see when you look in the mirror?
R. Kunde: I see myself as a proud new dad and an incredibly lucky husband, a brother, son, and grandson. I also see myself as a winemaker and small business owner.
B&BWine Blog: Tell us a bit about the DRNK family partnership.
R. Kunde: DRNK is a partnership between myself, my wife Katie, and her parents, Dale and Nancy. Our first initials is where we get the DRNK from. We all share the same goals of establishing a sustainable business, producing distinctive and interesting wines, and most importantly enjoying the experience of working together.
B&BWine Blog: Coming from a well regarded multi-generational Sonoma winemaking family, does this give you added pressure or drive to succeed with DRNK wines?
R. Kunde: It gives me the added drive to work hard. Years ago the Santa Rosa Junior College Ag department took a field trip out to the Kunde Ranch. The new professor with class in tow, approached the group of men in the developing vineyard. The professor introduced himself to the man standing there. The man said, “if you want to meet Mr. Kunde, you’re going to have to climb down in that ditch.” That’s the type of drive I have. I’m hands on and I work hard like so many others in this industry. I believe if I work hard and do my best, the success will come.
B&BWine Blog: What winemakers either influenced your style or mentored you?
R. Kunde: There are a lot of people who have influenced and helped me along the way. Early on, my appreciation for vineyard site came from spending time with my Grandfather, Fred Kunde, driving around our family vineyards, and again later was sparked by vintner Mike Officer at Carlisle, for his passion and work with Old Vine vineyards.
Growing up at Kunde, I learned my way around the cellar and bottling line from my Dad, Bill Kunde, and the rest of the great cellar crew. I learned my hands-on approach to winemaking from Byron Kosuge with Miura, and then Jay Maddox at Carlisle, where I learned volumes working with thin skinned varietals in a difficult vintage like ‘06. That vintage was the turning point where winemaking became my singular focus. My love for blending began at Kunde, under Tim Bell and Jennifer White, where we had over 20 varietals to blend and taste from, later my understanding of finesse and balance in Pinot Noir was boosted by my short time spent with Thomas Brocker and James MacPhail at MacPhail.
I studied Viticulture and Enology at U.C. Davis where I was mentored by Judy Blevins and Roger Boulton. That experience opened so many doors for me, and helped to shape my scientific bent and understanding of the worlds of soil science, hydrology, precision viticulture, and winemaking. It was during my time at Davis where I began the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and aerial photography to image vineyards.
B&BWine Blog: How would you describe your winemaking philosophy and why is it important to you?
R. Kunde: My approach to winemaking is inspired by wines that speak of where they were farmed. For me, it’s not enough for a wine to be flawless or good, my wines need to represent where they’re from in their structure, balance, taste, and style. To achieve this I try making my wines with minimal intervention; nature is capable of taking care of every step of winemaking, it’s up to me to shepherd the wine, and protect it from oxidative, thermal, and biological stressors, so each wine can achieve its full potential.
B&BWine Blog: As for your red wine, you appear to be focused on Pinot Noir. What is it about that variety you find so intriguing?
R. Kunde: I like how Pinot Noir is a cool climate variety and I’m intrigued how here in California, the coastal wind and fog navigate the coastal hills and inland valleys, reaching and cooling each site slightly differently according to the terrain. I’ve see how the wines turn out differently dependent on soil type, whether it be marine deposits or volcanic rock and other soil types. It’s these factors and others in combination with all the clonal diversity of Pinot Noir that is endlessly fascinating to me in the vineyard.
In the winery, the craft of making Pinot Noir is equally complex. Fermenter selection and temperatures, whole cluster percentages, cap management techniques, and cellaring practices are all things that contribute to creating different and distinctive small lots that we use to assemble our final blends.
B&BWine Blog: Your initial release of Cavers Cuvee Pinot Noir has received much acclaim, including a 97 score. What makes this wine so special?
R. Kunde: What makes this wine so special to me is that is represents a brief moment in time when my professional career of being a 5th generation winemaker crossed the path of my Great Uncle Richard and Aunt Saralee Kunde, of the 3rd generation, who literally helped to put the Russian River Valley on the map. Their community involvement and the award winning wines that came from Saralee’s Vineyard and Richards Grove benefitted the entire region and county as a whole.
Over 60% of the blend of that wine came from the last two tons of Pinot Noir to come off the property before it changed hands. It was an impeccable growing season with very clean fruit and excellent flavor development. The other 40% came from two other select sites in Green Valley and Russian River. Using small lot fermentations from these different sites, I was able to create a complex and layered house style that reflects much of what the Russian River Valley has to offer, and a wine I’m sure my Aunt would be very proud of.
B&BWine Blog: DRNK offers a unique and personalized tasting experience. What can a wine enthusiast might expect when visiting DRNK.
R. Kunde: A wine enthusiast can expect a one-on-one tasting in our wine cave where we go through our current releases. We can talk about everything from grapegrowing to winemaking, drones and 3-D printing.
B&BWine Blog: What does the future hold for DRNK Wines?
R. Kunde: We’re a start-up and there are so many wines we want to make- we expect every year to be different. Along with our Pinot Noir and great white wines, we’ll continue to produce other locally sourced limited release wines for our club and mailing list.
B&BWine Blog: Tell us about your life (hobbies, etc.) away from the winery?
R. Kunde: We welcomed a new addition to the family. Our son, Henry, was born this last March. He’s an absolute joy.
Since 2010, I’ve been developing my vineyard imagery and mapping “hobby”, for use on vineyards we source fruit from. I constantly try to equip my drones with better video and imaging equipment in attempt to attain a better bird’s-eye view. Aside from everything else, my favorite activity is mountain biking with friends at our great local parks.
B&BWine Blog: Other than your own, what wines do you enjoy drinking?
R. Kunde: While I’m a fan of imports, there are so many great local producers in the North Coast to get to know. I enjoy wines from Alder Springs Vineyard, Carlisle, Cobb Wines, Salinia Wine Co., Slanted House, the list goes on. Also, I’m always on the search for some great Sonoma Valley Malbec.