Monday, June 14, 2010

Kabernet Kid

Posted on Mon, Jun 14, 2010 at 9:29 PM

You might be forgiven for imagining that there's no connection whatsoever between the Karate Kid and a bottle of expensive cabernet sauvignonâ??forgiven but wrong. Don't worry; you're not the only one.

Screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, who was in town a while back (I have lunch with screenwriters all the time, of course), actually began his professional life as a cultural anthropologist with a Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania. The anthropology took him to Afghanistan, the stay resulted in a novel, then a screenplay (it was purchased but never made), and apparently the hook was set. (“It beat lecturing freshman girls,” he said.) He next sold the idea for the movie “Taps” for a cool quarter of a million, then developed the story and screenplay for “The Karate Kid” series, a project that instantly elevated him to “fucking genius status.” Kamen, as you can see, is not exactly shy and retiring.

Nor does he have any need to be. His string of movie credits now extends to 19, including “The Fifth Element”, “A Walk in the Clouds,” the “Transporter” series and, recently, “Taken” with Liam Neeson. Many of the films, including the Transporter franchise, were made with French writer, director, producer Luc Besson, and so tight is their working relationship that they have pet names for one another. Besson is Shreck (he's a tad portly) and Kamen is Donkey (no more need be said).

“A Walk in the Clouds,” a misty/mystical movie about wine and winemaking, made in 1995 and starring Keanu Reaves, might be imagined as the catalyst for Kamen's winemaking interest (aha! a plot point being revealed), but it all began earlier than that. In 1980, with the proceeds from screenplays, he bought 280 acres of rocky and remote land in the Mayacamas Range in Sonoma Countyâ??with the intent of making wine. Cabernet sauvignon, to be specific.

Initially, Kamen, with the aid of Phil Coturri, farmed grapes organically on slopes sometimes greater than 40% and sold them to local vintners. Yields were, and remain, at a scarce 1.5 tons per acre level. But with the 1999 vintage, Kamen, Coturri and his winemaker, Mark Herold (who also consults for Joseph Phelps and Merus), began creating, directing and producing their own productâ??to reviews often more favorable than those of many of the movies that allowed Kamen to pursue this passion. The team now does both cabernet and syrah, and it was the 2006 vintage that was presented at lunch at Ounce. No more surprises. Voicí le dénoument.

Except for one thing: There are lots of filmmaking notes on my technical sheet, but damned if I can find any relating to the wine in the glass. I do recall that the cabernet especially was incredibly deep and intense, and that fruits ran to the blackberry and black plum side of the spectrum. Tannins, as might be expected, were still unwinding. But I do have notes on this: wild turkeys, introduced into the Mayacamas, are the vineyard's biggest pest. Does that help?

I can also tell you that Kamen suggest that everybody should plant a vineyard since “it's a very humbling experience.” He then adds “of course you have to be richâ?¦” since the winery, at least, is not yet making money. (It would have last year, but “the economy went off the cliff.”) Karate Kid residuals must still be coming in it's tempting to imagineâ??if that's how it works, and Kamen is credited with the story (but not the “updated” screenplay) for the revamped KK that just hit the market. But “I worry about when I'm no longer in fashion,” he says of the writing career that has served him so well for so long. Wine will last longer, though; he does have a point there. Look for Kamen Estate Wines at a high-end restaurant or on a specialty retailer's shelf near you.

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