by Millie Howie
"I was born in Iowa and lived there until I was eight," says Tim Bell, winemaker at Kunde Estate Winery & Vineyards in Kenwood. "The family was involved in agriculture, but we weren't farming grapes." It was only after the Bells had moved to Southern California and Tim had graduated from high school and was working for the Liquor Barn beverage chain that he started exploring the subject of wine and admits, "I found it fascinating and endlessly detailed."
Tim continued working for Liquor Barn and moved a step closer to becoming a part of the wine scene by enrolling at the University of California at Davis.
While there he served internships at Mt. Veeder and Franciscan wineries in the Napa Valley, then worked the 1993 harvest at Gloria Ferrer Champagne Cellars. Gloria Ferrer had just begun making still wines - Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - and Tim was given the opportunity to gain experience in the full spectrum of grape growing and winemaking.
Before Tim graduated, in June 1994, he was interviewed for a position at Arroyo Seco Winery in San Martin, which was a custom crush operation, and with his degree in fermentation science in hand he worked there as an enologist for two years.
In 1996, Tim heard that Freemark Abbey was looking for an assistant winemaker and he and his wife Jennifer, with their two children moved to the Napa Valley. Half a dozen years later, when Tim was again looking for a post with a new challenge he heard that Kunde Estate Winery was seeking a winemaker, and as the successful candidate, he joined the family winery in April 2006.
"All the fruit I work with comes right from the Estate vineyards," he says, "and it is amazing and wonderful to have all these quality grapes right at my fingertips. I work a lot with Steve Thomas the vineyard manager and we spend a lot of time in the vineyards. We talk about the environmental practices employed on the ranch and discuss practices which will give us even more exceptional fruit. We have great quality Syrah on the property," he says, "so I am looking forward to working with some new blending partners, like Petite Sirah, for the Syrah grapes. I think one of the reasons Kunde was interested in hiring me was because of my long experience making successful red wines, and that is where a large part of my focus will be."
If you ask Tim about another generation of the Bell family in the vineyard or winery, he says both William (age 12) and Emma (just 7) are too young to tell, but then admits he's been pleased when William has shown an interest in going with him to "help" with some of the winery chores and hopes Emma will share the same interest in his career when she is a little older. Only time will tell.
Kunde Estate Winery & Vineyards is located at 9825 Sonoma Highway 12 in Kenwood. The tasting room is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more informaction, call (707) 833-5501 or go online to www.kunde.com.