Silicon Valley Winemakers

Kenny Likitprakong

Likitprakong Photograph by Jamie Soja

Denis Hoey | Kenny Likitprakong | Lindsey Otis | Brandon Brassfield | Mica Raas

KENNY Likitprakong's celebrated 2009 Ghostwriter Pinot Noir showcases yet another vintage milestone in the young vintner's odyssey.

Everything about Likitprakong's story is filled with independent attitude. It's easy to see that he considers wine an instrument of storytelling. In his mid-30s, Likitprakong has a background as exotically diverse as his branding style. Growing up in Healdsburg of Thai, Chinese and Jewish ancestry, he exercised his passions for skateboarding and snowboarding in tandem with plenty of world travel. His umbrella Hobo Wines group was named partly in homage to songwriter/vagabond Woody Guthrie and the free spirit of wandering.

"We started with Banyan for aromatic whites that would pair with foods I grew up eating," explains the winemaker, "and Hobo for Sonoma County Reds, where I am from originally."

The Banyan label, started with Likitprakong's father, showcases a line of crisp white wines including varietals like riesling and viognier.

"Later, some wines came up that didn't really fit that well into either of those categories so we added the Folk Machine [label] to have an outlet for more 'experimental' type wines," wines such as a rare and feisty valdiguie. Likitprakong makes no promises as to what grapes might show up in his bottles from one year to the next, something that gives his fan base plenty to look forward to.

"I don't think that the multiple brands really allows any more exploration than a single brand would," Likitprakong contends, "but wine seems incomplete without a story and I have always had trouble committing to only one story."

The winemaker admits that his "career path" has tended toward many forking paths, rather than a single, obvious goal. The story told always involves a sense of exploration. In fact, Likitprakong refuses to pin down ultimate goals, as might be expected from an experienced traveler who left arts studies at UCSC to snowboard in Tahoe, sample wines in Italy, Peru and the south of France, crush his first grapes in the Santa Cruz Mountains and surf a bit in Mexico before settling into his current oenological explorations. His avant-garde blends and unexpected varietal bottlings have already made him a cult figure in a domain well-stocked with mavericks.

The story behind the Ghostwriter label began in Santa Cruz. He made connections with Santa Cruz Mountains grape growers and winemakers when he worked at Felton's Hallcrest Vineyards in the early 2000s. This connection led him to the Woodruff Vineyard, a hallowed patch of ground in Corralitos. The vineyard has yielded a particularly intense dose of Santa Cruz Mountains terroir in the form of the 2009 Ghostwriter Pinot Noir. Jon Bonne, wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, named it one of 2011's top 100 wines. The wine is a partnership between Likitprakong and partner Brian Wilkerson.

"The Woodruff Family Vineyard is special," Likitprakong acknowledges. "It has the right geographic orientation and natural hillside drainage. The vines are old and well taken care of. They're dry farmed and always have been."

But there's more to the story. "I have walked through and worked in a lot of vineyards over the last 15 years or so and each vineyard has a certain energy or feeling somehow," he believes. "You just know which ones are special. The Woodruff Family Vineyard carries a certain peace and tranquility where you feel like things are right and as they should be."

Like many restless creators, the winemaker has a strong sense of place. "There is no doubt in my mind that the vines feel this too—and the resulting wines are a testament to it." Many palates agree.

Denis Hoey | Kenny Likitprakong | Lindsey Otis | Brandon Brassfield | Mica Raas | Drink Local