High up on Spring Mountain, dug deep into the earth, an ancient stone winery surveys the scene below. Underneath the watchful gaze of the Robert Keenan Winery, a small pond and rows of vineyards, a couple of houses surrounded by massive redwoods and pines, and all manner of creatures frolic in the relative isolation. If a visitor didn’t know that the bustle and noise of Highway 29 were only a few miles below, it would be easy enough to forget.
Keenan’s cozy, modern tasting room rests atop a much older stone foundation, built a century before for a similar purpose, and sits at a high enough elevation that the fireplace is crackling more often than not. Many of the skyward-reaching redwoods surrounding the property predate the arrival of Europeans in this space, possibly even that of the Wappo people before them. Drawn to the quiet isolation of the space, Robert Keenan established his winery in 1974. “There wasn’t much up there—no Pride, no Barnett—it was essentially the middle of nowhere,” remarked Michael.
Robert oversaw the first quarter-century of his winery’s renewed life before passing the torch to his son Michael in 1998. “My father was an ‘idea guy’ inspired by the wines his father-in-law served: DRC, Lafite, back when you could buy them for single digits a bottle.” When asked what he was most proud of, Michael responded, “The fact that I’ve really been able to bring my father’s vision to life.”
The Keenans are clearly doing something—possibly even everything—very right. Their wines have attained cult status. Their winery remains family-owned. The average tenure of their staff can be measured in decades. “Keenan isn’t just our job, it’s our home,” explained Laura March, who has managed the tasting room for twenty-seven years. General Manager Matt Gardner has been with the family for twenty-nine years. Aristeo Garcia, the cellar master, is in year eighteen. Perhaps this almost unthinkable level of consistency is what has set Keenan apart from others.
Last year, on a market visit to Atlanta, Michael went into a shop full of pet nats and millennials, people with blue hair and tattoos who, one might assume, weren’t the Napa Cab crowd. “They loved my wines!” exclaimed an excited Michael. “There’s hope!”
Today Michael’s son, Reilly, is on the winemaking team, the third generation of Keenans to make wine on Spring Mountain. Subtle yet profound is the evolution of notoriety that has taken place around the Robert Keenan Winery, which remains its official name to this day. “We used to be known by my dad’s name,” explained Michael, “so every time we showed up anywhere, tastings and other events, we were listed under the ‘R’s.’ But over time, that changed, and now we’re known as simply ‘Keenan,’” he smiled, foreseeing a day when he, like his father before him, would pass the torch on to his son.