Keegan Cellars: A Hidden Gem in Sonoma

Bristol Bar and Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper discusses his friendship with Eugenia Keegan of Keegan Cellars in Sonoma, California:

About 12 years ago, I was working on updating the Bristol’s wine list, and I was having a tough time finding a quality Pinot Noir that I could serve for around $20. I tasted through a dozen or so wines, there were some good ones in the lot, but all the very good wines were more expensive than I was looking for. After the tasting, I was a bit frustrated and started to think about what other options were out there. I recalled a winery called Bouchaine, which I was sure was in the price range I was looking for. I called Matt Baugher, the outstanding wine manager at the wholesaler that once carried it, and asked him about it. He recalled that they made an excellent Pinot Noir and at the price I was looking for but, they no longer carried it for a reason he couldn’t recall but certainly not because of quality. He told me if I was interested in putting it on the list he would pick it back up.

Winemaker Eugenia Keegan

I gave the winery a call the next day. I introduced myself and told the person who answered the phone that I was very interested in their wines but would like to get a sample bottle. This is a very common practice for anyone serious about their wine program and the quality of wine they sell. I told the lady on the phone that we had two restaurants (Bristol Bar & Grille Hurstbourne opened a few years later) and we could special order it through Matt Baugher. She said she would be happy to send me samples of two vintages and if we did not place the wines on my list that she would charge me for the samples. My knee jerk reaction to her suggestion was that I would accept the samples for serious consideration but would not accept a bill for them under any circumstances. The conversation immediately switched to where to send the wine. The wine arrived several days later with a note. I tried the Pinot Noir and loved it. It was exactly what I was looking for. After trying the wine I looked at the note. The note gave some information about the wine and thanked me for trying there wines, it was signed by the President of Bouchaine winery, Eugenia Keegan, the lady I spoke to on the phone.

So, after buying dozens of cases of their wine over the next few years or so, I was at the annual Cincinnati Wine Festival. I tasted wines while working my way around the room and came up to a table marked Bouchaine Winery. I said to myself, cool I would love to try their latest release of Pinot Noir. Again it was delicious, and I told the nice lady behind the booth that the wine was quite good, and I and carried Bouchaine wines in Kentucky. Much to my shock she said, “You must be the Bristol guy!” As I responded yes, I thought it couldn’t be, but it was Eugenia Keegan. We spoke for awhile about the wines, and how she appreciated us serving her wines.

A few years later, I was on a buying trip to Napa Valley with my friend Len Stephens. We had some free time and thought we would stop by the Bouchaine winery in Carneros. For some reason, we expected to see Eugenia who I had only meet once and had not made an appointment with. Low and behold, she was walking out as we were walking in. She had big news, she was resigning from Bouchaine to start her own winery Keegan Cellars. Her first vintage was 1994. I asked her to put me on the list and let me know about her wines.

Over the subsequent years, I bought the very limited amount of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay that I could, as they are produced in very limited quantities. For the first five or six years, I was the only place in Kentucky that served her delicious wines. She makes high quality artesian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Now, when I go to California, we almost always visit either at her home, the winery or at dinner at a tasty Napa restaurant like Bistro Jeanty. I have tried almost every wine she has made but recently, thanks to my friend John Kelly, I drank for the first time her first vintage 1994. It was absolutely delicious, soft velvety smooth with excellent red cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit, light oak, cinnamon and violets. It was one of the best mature new world pinot I have had.

Current releases of Keegan Wines

Chardonnay “Buena Tierra Vineyard” Russian River Valley, California 2002

The yellow/gold color suggests the richness to come. The nose confirms it with intense and complex flavors of yellow apples, lemon, pear, nectarines and toasty, buttery oak. The medium to full body adds to the richness but is deftly balanced by crisp acidity.

Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, California 2002

The velvety texture encompasses the full ripe fruit of black cherries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. Cinnamon, oak and smooth long tannins seduce you in this beguiling flavorful wine. This is a top notch Pinot Noir.