Overland Wines Dick Keenan went from Trial Lawyer to Wine Grower and Wine Producer
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Transition from trial lawyer to wine grower and wine producer
Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with Dick Keenan of Overland Wines and Kick Ranch Vineyards. Dick is a Notre Dame and Yale Law School graduate and former trial lawyer. After 31 years as a litigating attorney, Dick Keenan says there are three major things that have carried over into his second career: “What I most enjoyed in my law practice was working with great partners – bright, decent people you can rely on to do good work and back you up,” Keenan says. “Also, litigation involves complex facts that need to be explained; for that you need expert witnesses, so I got used to finding people who know their fields really well.” However, it was time to make a change, Dick approached his wife Kathy and told here that he would like to do something different. With her support, he made a break for it and become a wine grower and eventually a wine producer.
Grape growing is humbling
Having left his law practice in 2008, though, Keenan notes one major difference between his old and new livelihoods. “As a lawyer you organize people and cases, which gives you the idea that you’re in charge,” Dick says. “With grape growing, you’re not – the climate, the economy, other growers, trends in consumption, and the rise of new winemakers all exert some control. Grape growing is very humbling.” said Keenan.
See the USA in your Chevrolet
Every summer, Dick’s parents took their family on a monthlong road trip to a different part of the country. His dad worked for Chevrolet and if some of you remember there slogan, “See the USA in your Chevrolet“, his family definitely took that to heart and by the time Dick was 16, he had already visited 45 states in their family camping trailer and visited almost every National Park, which developed a love of the view of America wherever he found it. One of the trips took them to California from Richmond, Virginia, and San Francisco. He told me that he fell in love with the diversity and the beauty of San Francisco, California and made a resolution on that trailer trip that when he finish school, whenever that was, he would hightail it to California. It was at this time that new opportunities began to open up for him to practice law but then to be part of the farming community in California. “I had my parent’s road trips to thank for that.” said Dick. As a result, when he left for college, he aspired to become a park ranger and wanted to be in charge of the Grand Canyon. He began his studies at Notre Dame as a biology major, but couldn’t do calculus, so he switched to business.
Military school ran by monks
Keenan grew up in Richmond, Virginia, where he went to a military school run by monks and was the town’s only Catholic day school for boys. If you think that kind of education wouldn’t tend to produce winegrowers, you would be wrong: One of Keenan’s fellow alumni is Andy Beckstoffer, the alpha vigneron of the North Coast (whom Dick admires for “the idea of branding a vineyard. Winemakers all say it begins with the grapes – and he wants to charge you fairly for that”).
Journey to find the perfect vineyard location
I wanted to find out what requirements Dick had for finding a vineyard location and if he had any particular grape varietals or kind of a region in mind. Dick explained that geographically, his first choice after taking some classes in wine growing in Santa Rosa was to be in Sonoma County, and after searching for almost two years for a parcel, he was approached by a broker that he had contacted along the way and was told that there was this parcel that was very substantial and that might meet his needs. He like that it had great sun exposure and that it was in part of Sonoma County. Dick had the soil studied and the soils were great, so it had all the potential to be an exceptional vineyard. It was his goal to be responsible for the planting of the vineyard and not just buy an existing vineyard.
As he continued conducting his research, he learned that the land had been farmed as far back as 1854 by a pioneer family and they had vineyards on the land by the 1870s. “I thought I was on something special and that’s what worked out.” said Keenan. What is now called Kick Ranch was first settled by a pioneer family that walked overland almost 2000 miles on the western trails that began on the Missouri River near Omaha, Nebraska. They walked across America to start a new life, and they bought the land Dick and his team now farm. By 1875, those pioneers had planted 25 acres of vineyards. Over the years, whether due to Prohibition or changes in fortune, the vines disappeared. “As it turns out, we didn’t plant Kick Ranch, we restored it to a purpose and focus first set over 125 years earlier.” said Keenan.
“Wines of Effort, Promise and Optimism.”
I asked Dick to explain what their slogan “Wines of Effort, Promise and Optimism”means and he shared that it actually meant it as a reflection or statement about what we all undertake when we start something new. We commit to fighting to be as good as we possibly can, whether it’s a small business, or a service that we provide. Dick said that you have to go all in and put forth the effort to come up with something that you think is gonna be worthy of your time. So, Overland Wines makes “Wines of Effort, Promise and Optimism.” They are committed to making their wines for wine enthusiasts and in particular those interested in a unique Sonoma County wine experience by offering visits to Kick Ranch for unique tastings and events and by also promoting the talented winemakers who also make Kick Ranch vineyard designated wines.
The Cowboy Hat
I love the cowboy hat, so I asked Dick if that was something he’s always wanted to wear or just playing the big part now? “I had a cowboy hat on one of our trailer trips west. So, to have a chance to wear one again is a lot of fun. I’ve got a couple of buddies that actually have quite the cowboy hat collection now. They’ve been giving me advice on a new hat to pick out. In fact, one friend, a banker, ended up being a good friend of Johnny Weismuller, if you remember Tarzan from the movies, he was best known for playing Tarzan in films of the 1930s and 1940s. Johnny Weismuller’s widow, gave Dick’s friend Tarzan’s cowboy hat. After Johnny had his career in the jungle, he started doing cowboy westerns and to this day, Dick Keenan has the honor of wearing Tarzan’s cowboy hat.
Great Wine by great people
Uncorked Monthly had a wonderful time tasting and reviewing the wines that Dick shared with us for our New Bottle Experience. Although each of the Overland Wines that we tasted were amazing, we selected the 2012 “Kick Ranch” Argonaut Red from California’s Sonoma County for our final review and rating. To learn more about Overland Wines and Kick Ranch please visit their respective website.
2012 “Kick Ranch” Argonaut
A complex wine with layers of aromas and fruit, this Rhone blend consist of 38% syrah, 35% grenache , 19% mourvedre and 8% petite sirah. Red fruits – maraschino cherry, raspberry, and ripe strawberry – along with cinnamon spices and white pepper, beckon upon opening the bottle. An inviting mid-palate of tobacco and leather draws through the finish with silky tannins.14.5% alc. Only 311 cases produced Gold Medals – SF Chronicle , Riverside Int’l and Orange County Wine Society Competitions 2015 91 points WE – “as polished and carefully balanced as it is delicious and deep” and 91 Points Connoisseurs’ GuideSome pairing suggestions:Grilled Moroccan Spiced Lamb Riblets (hors d’oeuvres)Pulled Pork Sandwiches (lunch)Mushroom Stuffed Pork Chop with Sautéed Apples (main).
NEW BOTTLE EXPERIENCE REVIEW & RATING