Steven Kent Mirassou: A Master of Literature to a Master of Wine
Steven Kent Mirassou didn’t always want a career in wine. He went to school on the East coast, got a Masters in Literature, and was considering the pursuit of a PhD. “The idea of writing the great American novel was very appealing, so I was going to write books and teach literature.” Ultimately, though, Steven chose his family’s business. It wasn’t a matter of family pressure. While he worked at the family winery as a kid each summer, there wasn’t really any expectation Steven would take up the family trade. However, after completing his Masters, Steven realized he simply didn’t have another three or four years left in him to pursue a doctorate. That’s when he meandered towards wine.
Being part of the Mirassou clan certainly made his new endeavor less burdensome. He’s part of the 6th generation to be involved in the industry, carrying on the family legacy dating all the way back to 1854. “No one seems to leave [the industry],” Steven explains. “My father was well liked when he was working, and still is liked, and that’s made it much easier to get in the door with people.” Steven learned a great deal about the industry from his dad. In fact, it was alongside his father that the pair set out to establish a new Livermore Valley winery in 1996.
Read reviews of Steven Kent wines here.
At the time, no one in the Livermore Valley had really tried to build a winery’s reputation around Cabernet. The Napa Valley seemed to have a monopoly on the varietal, so the notion of a Cabernet house in Livermore didn’t appear practical, but Steven and his father saw the possibility. From a viticulture standpoint, the valley had all the necessary components, with enough heat to promote ripening but also enough cooler temperatures for the grapes to retain good acidity. There was a wide variety of soil, too, so Steven never had much doubt about the valley’s ability to grow excellent fruit. As he puts it, “We could have been the 400th guy in Napa or the 1st guy in Livermore. We chose to be the 1st guy in Livermore.” The notion of setting the bar in Livermore and working hard to become a successful Cabernet house was too great an undertaking for Steven to pass up. It was with this vision in mind that the Steven Kent Winery was founded.
While the Steven Kent Winery has produced some top-quality Cabernets, Steven’s other great love in the world of wine is Pinot Noir. The Livermore Valley, however, isn’t conducive to growing the varietal. Steven didn’t let that stop him. Just a stone’s throw away from Steven Kent, at La Rochelle, they make all Pinot, all the time. Steven works with some of the finest growers in the West, from acclaimed Pinot producing areas like the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Russian River Valley, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Being privileged enough to have such great fruit is quite a blessing, but there’s plenty of work involved. In a way, Steven and fellow winemaker, Tom Stutz, just might have the world’s worst/best job. They are constantly tasting from different barrels and blends of barrels to determine which fruit is going to end up in which bottles. Keeping track of all the barrels and blends requires a lot of yellow note pads, excel spread-sheets, and even an application on Steven’s I-phone. When you taste the quality in the different bottles, though, it’s easy to understand why they put so much effort into the selection process.
Read reviews of La Rochelle Pinots here.
Looking towards the future, Steven has high hopes for his wineries and the Livermore Valley in general, both in terms of quality and recognition. Personally, Steven hopes that in his lifetime the Livermore Valley and Steven Kent Winery are recognized as being one of the great producers of both Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blends in the world. For La Rochelle, he hopes to establish long-term relationships with his current growers, expand the number of appellations they get fruit from, and down the line, he’d like have to their own Pinot vineyards in various prime locations. Overall, the region is still quite young as an appellation, and it will take the investment of time as well as capital in order to move it closer to its full potential. “If we can get a dozen wineries consistently producing 90-plus point wines according to the press, and the number of amenities continues to increase, being so central to the Bay Area’s population, we would be a much more well visited place,” Steven projects. He knows it will take time, vision, and a commitment to producing top-quality wines. But if winemakers in the valley have a clear understanding of the kinds of wines they want to make, believe Livermore can produce wines equal to any appellation in the world, and put in the hard work to reach that goal, Steven has every confidence the valley can achieve great things. What he’s accomplished thus far at La Rochelle and Steven Kent Winery is a testament to that potential.