Interview with Robert Kamen, Kamen Estate

Robert Mark Kamen avoids a house palate by shunning his own wines in favor of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Interview for Wine-Searcher

You grew up in the city projects in the Bronx. How did you end up as a California winemaker?

I sold my first screenplay to Warner for $135,000 in 1979. I called my friend to celebrate and came down to Sonoma to meet him. We bought some wine, rolled some joints and came up here [to the vineyard]. There was no road or anything – we hiked for an hour and a half. I was an urban rat, I moaned the whole way until I got up here and saw that view. I sat here and said I could sit here forever, and he said: “You can, it’s for sale.”

The property’s stunning, but why vineyards?

I wanted to find the guy who grew the pot we smoked that day – it was the best in California – and so I found him, hiked up here with him, and he told me that his dream was to grow organic wine on hillsides. Nobody planted organic in 1979, especially in the mountains. In the last 30 years he [Phil Coturri] has become one of the best viticulturists in the world. He single-handedly brought organic viticulture to the mountains.

Your vineyards are biodynamic, why?

I was a child of the ’60s – lots of acid and flowers in my hair. I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t say using chemicals doesn’t go into the wine, or into [San Francisco] bay! I’m a firm believer in organic. Also my vegetables taste better. There’s great satisfaction in knowing that there’s no shit in what I eat.

Do you remember your first real taste of wine?

I spent a year in Afghanistan in 1971 with nomads doing research, and I wrote a novel, which got bought as a screenplay. I came home from Afghanistan, had some money and went to a wine store in New York. This man had changed his cigarette and food rations in World War II for Bordeaux wine and opened a wine shop [no longer in existence]. I gave him $1000 dollars and asked him to give me wine for a year. He gave me a case and told me to come back and tell him about it.

And what did you think?

At first I thought I was wasting my money – [it] was bitter and sour! I didn’t know what the fuss was about. Six months later I started appreciating what I was tasting; after a year I was hooked.

Is wine worth the fuss now?

It is now that I spent all that money in a vineyard! I’m enamored of wine … It’s still the thing that I look forward to at the end of the day. My cellar [more than 5000 bottles] is just for consumption.

What do you drink when you are not drinking your own Kamen Estate wines?

I don’t drink my own wines!

Why not?

Read the full interview on


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