About Ketcham Estate
This is one winery I had never heard until one of our wine friends arranged for us to meet Mark Ketcham and taste his Ketcham Estate wines. Our friend Pat bid on this special wine tasting with Mark Ketcham at a school fundraiser. We are happy she had the winning bid and even happier she asked us to tag along. The tasting took place in Mark’s fabulous house in the Russian River area near the town of Healdsburg. Mark is one of many successful business owners we find today in the world of wine who, once retired from their successful businesses, decide to start a winery. As the old saying goes, “To make a small fortune in the wine business, one must start with a large fortune!” Mark Ketcham has long been a wine aficionado, especially of Burgundy wines. When he sold his computer company, he set out to find the perfect spot for growing Pinot Noir grapes. As we sip his Pinot Noir wines, he tells us that he evaluated over 100 properties using a Harvard Business School evaluation method. His home and his estate vineyard are located at the northern end of the Russian River Valley. His vineyard is a stone’s throw from J Vineyard and Rodney Strong. But Ketcham has one thing not found at either one of those wineries, and that is water. There is a creek that runs along his property and provides a substantial water table. The clones of Pinot Noir Mark is using grow in a lateral direction. He chose those Pinot Noir clones so they would have some struggles in finding the necessary nutrients, instead of growing strait down into the water table. Mark has hired a full-time vineyard manager and has provided a home for him and his family on the property. Kudos to Mark on providing for his employee.
Mark admits that although he knows much about wine, he would never attempt to make wine. That, he leaves up the specialist. It is rather curious that Mark has had three or four winemakers since the first vintage of 2002. He began with winemaker Mike Browne of Kosta-Browne fame, and we got the vague notion that Mark must be quite demanding in what he expects in his wine. Mark recently hired a new winemaker, Mark Topel. Mark and his wife Donnis own the Topel Winery and have a tasting room in downtown Healdburg. The Topels’ winery is located in Hopland, about 35 miles north of Healdsburg. Mark and Donnis purchase grapes from Mark Ketcham, and I am assuming that is what led to the Ketcham winemaking stint for Mark Topel. It was very fun to try the three Ketcham Pinot Noirs, different vintages and from different vineyard plots. The Pinot Noirs are well made and very delicious, and I think priced correctly compared to other Pinot Noir wines in the Russian River Valley.
What we most enjoyed about our visit was when Mark took us downstairs and into his “man cave.” He walks towards a bookcase and reaches behind a book and viola! The bookcase is a doorway that swings open into a fabulous and well- stocked wine cellar. I spotted Burgundys, Bordeaux’s, Napa cult cabs, and even an Nebuchandnezzar bottle of Veuve Cliquot. A Nebuchandnezzar holds 20 regular bottles of wine. Holy smokes!
This was a special tasting for the school fund raiser. Normally all the tastings at Ketcham Estate are by appointment and done in the vineyards. Check the Ketcham Estate Website for additional information. Should you want to visit other wineries in the area, check our Old Redwood Highway Wine Trail.