Reverie Winery, located near Calistoga, California, is one of Napa Valley’s smallest estate wineries. The vineyard is nestled on a steep, 40 acre parcel high up in the Diamond Mountain appellation. It was once part of the Bonsell Property that is now divided into three vineyards – Reverie, Diamond Creek, and Von Strasser.
Norman Kiken, a New Jersey guy, is the owner and winemaker. He purchased the property in 1993 and specializes in producing ultra-premium Bordeaux style varietal blends that reflect the uniqueness of the terroir. Norman’s consultant is his good friend and fellow winemaker, Ted Lemon, owner of Littorai. Ted began his career by studying Enology at the Universite de Bourgogne. He apprenticed at several famous estates in Burgundy: Domaines Dujac, De Villaine, Roumier, Parent, and Bruno Clair. He was the first American hired as a winemaker and vineyard manager of a major Burgundian estate, Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault.
The following is Norm’s version of how he became a “wine geek,” or as a wine-making friend called him, a “cork dork.”
“It was 1978. I was a CPA working for a major accounting firm and not very knowledgeable about wine. That year I purchased three bottles of 1970 vintage Bordeaux red wines from a local wine store in Edison, New Jersey. I liked the wines and went back to try to purchase a case. I was told the wines were available, but only from the 1969 vintage. I was unsure, but was told that if I didn’t like them, I could return the rest. I tried them, but found them to be thin and acidic. So I returned them. Not too long after, I’m waiting in my dentist’s office, reading a magazine article about bargain wines. There was an article that strongly recommended them, but warned only to buy the 1970 vintage since the 1969’s were thin and acidic. That’s the exact description I had used to describe them, and it was then I realized I had a good palate. I became obsessed about reading books and articles, bought a lot of wine, and took many wine-tasting courses.”
Move ahead a few years, and Norm is the chief financial officer of a large public company. Fortunately, Norm’s bosses were also into wine, and Norm was able to further develop his interest and knowledge of wine, although it was mostly for Bordeaux reds. He was becoming interested in California wines, which were starting to become popular. Norm’s unofficial title was “Corporate Sommelier.” As fate would have it, his employer invested in Pine Ridge Winery, a Napa Valley winery. Norman was given the role of overseeing the investment. Norm spent as much time as he could justify at Pine Ridge doing anything he was asked as he further developed his tasting skills and wine-making knowledge. His personal cellar by now was over 2000 bottles.
In 1993, Norm realized he loved the wine business and decided that was what he wanted to do. He took the advice from the winery’s chief executive, “You really want to make the best wine in the world, so go do it.” So, Norm found an amazing vineyard property on Diamond Mountain and purchased it. The property had been planted in 1989-1990 and was just coming into production. It was not yet a winery. The transaction closed and two weeks later, it was harvest time. Norm was still spending most of his time in New York and needed help from someone with a lot of experience. Norm was then introduced to Ted Lemon.
The first grapes from this young vineyard were good, but not exceptional, so Ted and Norm decided against using the actual Reverie name on the wine. Instead they bottled it under the Daydream label. Both Ted and Norm felt the Cabernet Franc was outstanding and decided to convert some of the Cabernet Sauvignon to this variety. Norm also wanted to plant a few other varietals, and he converted some of the vines to Petit Verdot, Malbec, Barbera, and Tempranillo. At that point in time, Norman and Ted talked with the few producers who grew Cabernet Franc and were told it was not a marketable wine, other than in minute quantities. Interestingly, the Barbera and Tempranillo that Norm planted, were then, and still are, quite rare in Napa.
In 1994, Norm quit his job, and he and his late wife, Evelyn, moved full time to the Napa Valley. He built a home at the top of this beautiful, steep property, and at the bottom, an office and future winery in a re-creation of a 125 year old barn found originally on the property.
The 1994 Daydream wine got noticed by the wine press and was receiving great reviews. It was the last Daydream wine until the label was used several years later for some purchased grapes.
In 1995, Reverie applied for, and was granted, a winery permit. Most of the 1995 vintage wines (as well as all the 1993 and 1994 vintage wines) were custom crushed at another winery. However the first and very small vintages of 1995 Barbera and Tempranillo were now able to be produced at Reverie’s new winery. Since there was virtually no equipment, a friend crushed the grapes for him and Norman fermented the wines in plastic bins, which he punched down by hand. To press the Tempranillo, he manually pushed the skins through a household strainer. For the Barbera, he borrowed a small stainless steel pot fitted with a stainless steel screen. He took a “sanitized” 4x4 piece of wood which fit onto the screen, and then he stood on it to press the grapes (a “light” pressing). This was Reverie’s first estate wine. The total production of the two varietals was two barrels or 50 cases.
In 1996, all the winery equipment had been received, and since then all Reverie wines have been estate grown, produced, and bottled.
As years went by, Norm needed more help. He had two sons, Mark and Andrew. Mark owned a business and was still happily living in New Jersey. He visited as often as he could, but didn’t have a great interest in wine. So, Andrew, always up for a change, was called into service. Andy’s background was in sales, but he didn’t know much about the process of wine-making. He quickly got involved with setting up our unique “walk-around” style of tour and helped shape the entire Reverie experience into what it is today. The number of Wine Club Members rapidly grew as Andrew focused on sales and marketing. He and Norm have a unique father/son relationship, and somehow, it actually works. Norm named his popular 2nd label red blend, the A.S.Kiken, (known as “Ass Kicken”) after him, Andrew Stuart Kiken.
Lori Lane, a former teacher and Principal for many years, joined the Reverie team in 2009. She focuses on wine tours, marketing, social media, and "editing" (and asking Norm a million wine-related questions.) During the winter she travels and organizes Reverie’s Home Wine Dinners across the United States.
Reverie’s sales team also includes Guillermo Hernandez, a Napa guy. Guillermo comes from an interesting family with a long valuable history in the California wine world. His humor, knowledge, and background are a bonus to the Reverie sales staff.
The business office is overseen by Office Manager, Juling Pescio, and includes Matt McEligot. The office is open year round, and Juling and Matt are there to answer your questions about ordering, billing, and shipping. Norman, still a “numbers guy,” continues to do the accounting for Reverie.
Great wine is really made in the vineyard and Reverie’s vineyard has been in the capable hands of Vineyard Manager Daniel Trejo since the beginning of Reverie. His full-time team includes Gonzalo Ayala and Cesar Ortiz, both long time employees. The long term familiarity of this group with the vineyard is integral to Reverie’s ability to consistently produce outstanding wines.
Recently, Norman re-married to a very special lady, Susan Donahue. Suzie, from a large, lively Irish family in Chicago, lived in Marin County, California for many years. She is a Dental Hygienist and has enjoyed a long career working in a periodontal practice in Marin County. Suzie has a very close relationship with her family and friends, including her son, Adam, and his partner, Julia. Norm and Suzie married in June, 2010 inside Reverie’s magnificent circle of redwood trees. Suzie still works several days a week as a Dental Hygienist. Both do occasional wine tours at the winery.
Today, just like any day, you may, or may not, find Norm at the vineyard and/or office. He’s enjoying life, enjoying marriage, and enjoying his family – but his love of making great wine continues every day. A lot has happened since 1993, and he’s very appreciative of life, family, and all Reverie customers, especially those who have been with him since the early days.