Back in 2013, Michael Kennedy was visiting one of the better Napa Valley wineries when he had the rare chance to taste a wine made from 100 percent Petit Verdot.
Petit Verdot is rarely made into a single-varietal wine; it is usually combined with wines made from other grapes to add tannic structure, color and flavor to red blends. That was what the winery he was visiting used it for, but after tasting it, Kennedy had another idea.
“I thought, a) – this wine is super delicious; and b) how cool it would be for collectors to taste the pieces of these great blends and see their DNA.”
Kennedy, who left his job as the head sommelier of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman last month in order to pursue his new venture, had one major obstacle in bringing his idea to reality: He needed to convince a top Napa Valley wine producer to sell him some of their wines. Having forged good relationships with some of these producers during his two years at The Ritz-Carlton, Kennedy pitched his idea to someone in a position to help.
“The winemaker said, ‘That sounds like one of the coolest projects coming out of Napa in a long time; I’m in!’” said Kennedy. With that, Component Wine Company was launched with a mission of selling deconstructed wines from iconic Napa Valley producers.
“Component is perfect for wine geeks and collectors,” he said. “All the quality of the icon wines is there, it’s just pulled apart.”
The initial offering from Component Wine Company will be small – only 400 cases that include 2013 Petit Verdot and 2014 Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
By separating out the wines that make up some of the best Napa Valley blends, Kennedy understands that the component wines will not be as polished as the blended wines. But as any drinker of fine single malt whisky knows, blended whisky is not necessarily the best whisky, even if it is more rounded and polished. The same can hold true with fine wine.
“The idea is for the wine to be raw and elegant at the same time,” Kennedy said. “The two [attributes] seem contradictory, but it makes sense.”
Kennedy, who worked for a time as a winemaker in Calistoga in northern Napa Valley, knows what each varietal brings to a blend, but he said he has a special affinity for Cabernet Franc. In a blend, Cabernet Franc brings savory, red fruit flavors along with perfumed violet aromas to a blend, helping to round out the more masculine characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
“Cabernet Franc to me is so beautiful,” Kennedy said. “It’s like my secret sauce in a blend.”
Although there are some wineries producing very good single-varietal Cabernet Franc wines, and others making wines dominated by the grape, very few make fine wines made up only of Petit Verdot, another of Component’s initial offering wines.
“I can only name one winery on the high end that produces good Petit Verdot,” Kennedy said. “It’s a specific taste profile that doesn’t really fit the full-bodied taste profile, but [the Component 2014 Petit Verdot] is a wine that on its own, I would throw with a steak that’s just seasoned with salt and pepper.”
Component’s 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon shows restraint in its blackberry fruit flavors while still maintaining its silky elegance.
“I think of all the wines, this one seems polished,” Kennedy said, adding that the Cabernet Sauvignon, like all of the other Component wines, comes in under 14 percent alcohol by volume – below what many Napa Valley wines are producing.
The one major Napa Valley red blending grape that Component will not have in its initial offering is Merlot, but Kennedy said he is looking into the possibility of adding wine made from that grape in the future.
The first 400 cases from the Component Wine Company will feature wines in 16 barrels from a top Napa Valley producer. Kennedy is not allowed to name the winery where he got these wines, but he says it’s a “top five” producer of Napa red blends.
“It has to be top five,” he said. “I want people to trust [that] what they getting from us is the best.”
Kennedy said Component could increase its offerings in future vintages if he can find more sources for the wine, but that he will not compromise on quality to do so.
“Whoever I get it from, it will have to be the best quality,” he said.
When Component takes possession of the wines, they are mostly a finished product, although Component will do some final aging and then filtering before bottling.
“Right now, we’re just the curator at the museum,” he said.
Component spared no expense for the final aging, acquiring 20 top quality Francois Freres oak barrels from Hungary at $800 apiece to perform the task.
“The wines needed to be in the best vessel they could be,” Kennedy said of the barrels.
Component will contract out the bottling of the wine for the initial offering.
“Eventually, we would like to get our own bottling line to control that aspect.”
The wines will be marketed directly to wine collectors. There will be no advertising of the wines, just a basic website. Kennedy said it’s likely that only two restaurants – Blue by Eric Ripert on Grand Cayman and Ripert’s restaurant in New York, Le Bernardin – will get allocations.
Kennedy believes there will be a market for the wines, especially among fine wine collectors who are looking for something a little different.
“I think our wines will offer a behind-the-scenes look at iconic Napa wines,” he said, adding that by drinking Component’s “deconstructed” wines, collectors will gain an understanding of why a wine they pay $1,000 for is what it is by seeing what its individual components taste like.
In addition, Kennedy thinks the rarity of the wines and the fact that single varietal Petit Verdot and Cabernet Francs are hard to buy will also attract collectors.
But above all, Kennedy says, the wines are simply delicious.
“I want these wines to be fun and educational, but be every bit on par with what [collectors] have in their cellar.”