Kieran Robinson’s First-Born Wine

Roger Morris, 2011


Kieran Robinson walks into Twelves Grill & Café in West Grove, Penn., with a bottle of wine clutched tightly by the neck, a prize that he could firmly hold aloft in celebration if called to.

The 32-year-old Pennsylvania native has been working at wineries since he was a student majoring in environmental sciences at Ithaca College — from tasting room help to cellar apprentice in the Finger Lakes, southeast Pennsylvania, the Rhône Valley, and now in California. He has helped make and sell other people’s wine, but the wine that he holds by the neck is his first born: Kieran Robinson Bennett Valley Syrah 2009.

Robinson, his square jaw rimmed by a well-cropped beard and mustache, is not unique — perhaps hundreds of people become first-time winemakers every year — but he relishes the moment as the cork is pulled and glasses poured and delicious steak frites platters are brought out of Tim Smith’s kitchen. It is a moment any achiever dreams of — a first book signed, an invitation to play at Wimbledon, the first customer served at a restaurant whose kitchen is your own.

The Syrah is quite good, very much in the Rhône style that Robinson and his fiancée, Kristie Sheppard, dreamed of while he was interning at Domaine Pierre Gaillard in Côte Rotie. Like most really very good Syrahs, it is a blend of vibrant fruit and savory, spicy earthiness. The muted black raspberry cream melds into a crunchy fudge brownie under-taste. And it goes very well with the rare beef.

In California, Robinson has worked at such prestigious wineries as Cakebread Cellars, Paul Hobbs, and Adobe Road, which is where his day job still is. But not long after bottling about 300 cases of his first wine, he tucked a case into the aircraft’s fuselage and flew back home to show family and friends his new baby.

Robinson has learned making wine the old fashioned way, by apprenticeship rather than in the classroom. “In some ways, I think it’s been an advantage,” he says, “because I’ve not learned just one style, but many by working with different winemakers.” And now all he has to do is sell those remaining 299 cases, mostly through his website, at about $50 a pop. Meanwhile, the second-born, 2010 Syrah waits its turn to be bottled.

Welcome to the wine business.