New Kids on the Block
Those musing about quitting the rat race and starting their own wine label would do well to crib some notes from Aram Deirmenjian and Greg Johnson, founders of Paso Robles’s new Kiamie winery. Having hit the ground running with some very fine releases, it’s clear that they did a few things right: They did their research, tested the waters before diving in and hired a more experienced consultant to help them develop a viable plan.
No matter how much you think you know about wine, you probably don’t know how to run a winery. Heck, even if you’ve run a winery, you still probably don’t know how to run a profitable winery.
Deirmenjian’s family had grown grapes in Fresno for 30 years—table grapes, not wine grapes—but he was making a living as a structural building engineer in New York City. His friend, Greg Johnson worked for fine wine retailer Dodd’s Liquor City in Chappaqua, New York. Johnson admits his experience with Paso Robles amounted to “Paso what?,” save for the occasional bottle of Justin Isosceles.
The Kiamie partners first considered buying a vineyard in upstate New York. They continued tasting wines from across the U.S. for a year and a half, looking for a region with both affordable land and the potential to make great wines. “I put Greg’s dog in the truck and travelled across the country,” says Aram. To get more hands-on experience, Aram took a grunt job in Paso Robles at Halter Ranch, a highly-regarded grower and winery in Paso Robles’ Adelaida region. He worked in the vineyards, in the winery and, finally, in the tasting room, spending a full year learning the mechanics of the business.
Deirmenjian was sold on Paso Robles’ potential. Greg soon followed. They recruited Aram’s former boss, then Halter Ranch winemaker and Paso Robles veteran Steve Glossner, to be Kiamie’s consultant and winemaker.
Winemaker Steve Glossner and Greg Johnson check the brix level.
The partners originally intended to buy vineyards and start an estate winery, but Glossner advised them to start by purchasing fruit from top growers like Halter Ranch and invest first in making great wine at a custom crush facility. Their first vintage, 2005, was a heavy crop by Paso standards, so the plan made sense.
“Right now all we spend money on is fruit and barrels,” says Glossner. For a start-up winery, that’s a good strategy. With Glossner tending the barrels, the results are so far quite promising. Kiamie has so far released a freestyle flagship red blend called Kiamie Kuvée, a Bordeaux-style red blend and a white blend, and it has its first Rhône-style red in the works.
Kiamie partners Aram Deirmenjian and Greg Johnson.
2005 Kiamie Kuvée White, Paso Robles ($24) At its heart a Rhône-style white (65% Roussanne, 35% Viognier), medium/full-bodied, with deep golden color, richly-textured white peach and lemon curd flavors with a minty finish.
2005 Kiamie Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles ($32) Ripe and fruit-forward with vanilla, black cherry pie, blackberry and root beer aromas, cassis and cinnamon flavors and a lifted bay laurel note the finish.
2005 Kiamie Kuvée, Paso Robles ($44) A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Zinfandel with deep blackberry and cassis aromas, sweet, plush blackberry liqueur flavors and firm, well-integrated tannins.
2006 Kiamie Kuvée, Paso Robles ($44) More of a straight Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, with deep black cherry, blackberry, cassis, blueberry and tar aromas and ripe black fruit flavors with a minty edge and ample tannin from the 15% Petit Verdot.