Q&A with the Screenwriter of Karate Kid, Taken and Transporter, and owner of Kamen Wines
You’ve written some of Hollywood’s iconic franchises—The Karate Kid, Taken, Transporter. How did you get into wine?
When I was in grad school, I spent time in Afghanistan, and I wrote a novel about it. A cousin of mine is a film director. He showed me three screenplays. So I turned it into a screenplay, and Warner Brothers bought it for $135,000 in 1979. I came up to Sonoma to celebrate and drank a lot of wine. My friend took me to this magical place, where from the top you could see the San Francisco Bay. I said, “I could stay here forever.” He said, “You can. It’s for sale.” And so I bought 300 raw acres of a place I’d never been before.
I never had it in mind to make wine. Everyone told me the wine business sucked, and it does. It wasn’t until after the big fire here in 1996, that people kept telling me what a great vineyard I had. And then, Jean-Georges (Vongerichten) came to the vineyard and said, “You must make wine. I’ll sell it in the restaurant.” I made 500 cases, and he took 50. I said, “I thought you were going to sell it!” And Jean-Georges said, “Why did you make so much?”
The Vineyard is amazing!
It’s a lava block. You’ll never see anything like it. We took every stone bigger than your head and hand-carried it out of the vineyard. They are all piled up in this swale—80 tons of rock. We planted 2,000 vines to the acre. It’s all Cabernet, with a half-acre of Cabernet Franc, and it’s all planted in rock. There’s no dirt. We’ve planted 50 acres, which give us 4,000 cases, including 300 cases of white, 200 cases of Syrah, and a half-acre of Viognier. The rest is Cabernet.
There is a fun story about how your top wine, Kashmir, came to life.
Yes, my winemaker, Mark Herold, insisted that we make a cuvée from the best performing barrels. My vision was an estate where all the wine was blended into one great wine. Mark had sent me samples to taste to make the call. Fearing cellar palate and bias, I called you up and asked to taste the samples with me to make the final call. I pulled up to your restaurant on my road bike in full gear, and we went down to your cellar and tasted through. You said #3 is best, #1 the least, and #2 in the middle. You nailed it, and I was on the phone with Mark telling him to proceed, and Kashmir was born!
Do you have a vision for the future of your wine?
I ripped up the irrigation system and installed misters because the climate is changing, and it’s getting hotter. You don’t want to have canopy collapse in the middle of the summer. When it gets above 95 degrees, the mister automatically comes on, the heat rises, things get hydrated, and it lowers the temperature two-to-three degrees, enough to keep the canopy from collapsing. I’m very proud of what we’ve done. This vineyard will be here long after I’m gone.
Could you pair one of your wines with one of your iconic movies?
Yes! I would pair my Syrah (taken from Chave in Hermitage, some of the best Syrah vineyards in the Rhône) and Taken. They both have dark overtones; you have brooding dark fruits, chocolate, spices, tobacco, and in the end, the Viognier skins give a floral lift and a happy ending.