I recently chatted with my good friend Robert Kamen, responsible for creating blockbuster film franchises The Karate Kid, Taken, and Transporter for my newsletter. Robert happens to own one of the most incredible Biodynamically Farmed Vineyards in the World! You’d have to see it believe it!
Check out this candid interview with this legend!
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, wherefrom 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 to 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?”
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.
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!
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.
I did. My first karate instructor was Ed McGrath. He was a former marine drill instructor, a big rough and tough Irish guy who taught me how to fight. We were in Northport, Long Island, doing my blackbelt test. I did all the stuff, and he didn’t say anything.
Afterward, we go to a bar in a strip mall across from the dojo. There were all these construction workers there. I never went to these places. I was a little, scrawny Jewish kid. Ed was 6-foot-3, and he goes up to this 6’2” guy and starts flirting with his girlfriend, and the guy was like, “What the hell is wrong with you?” So Ed says, “Mr. Kamen, take care of this issue for me. So I clocked the guy. I hit him as hard as I could in the solar plexus. Two other guys jumped in, and my nose got broken. I came out of the bar with blood all over my blue and white striped shirt. McGrath, an alcoholic, takes me to his car and says, “Kneel!” We’re in a parking lot! I’m like, “OK, Sensei!” My nose is throbbing, my rib hurts. He hands me my blackbelt… in a strip mall in Long Island.
For the films Devil’s Own and Angel Has Fallen, I was a script doctor. I do it if it comes up. I turned The Karate Kid into a Broadway musical. If COVID didn’t hit, it would be on Broadway a year from this month, but we’ll have to push it back a year now. I try to do three scripts a year. The best thing now is I don’t have to go to L.A. anymore. I push a button and send the script to them. We’ll have a Zoom meeting; It’s fantastic. It’s the poor man’s version of Count Tolstoy.
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.
Thank you for the time, Robert! Your movies and legacy stand strong!
“Put em’ in a body bag”!
Find Kamen Wines here.
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