Now Cork & Flame

Meet Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji

Reprinted with permission from

This special dinner featured Emmanuel Kemiji, Master Sommelier and owner of Miura Vineyards. He turned out to be a great storyteller who entertained the crowd with his stories as well as his wonderful wines.

Kemiji’s cult wines sold under the Miura label are difficult to find outside of fine restaurants. This marked their first appearance in Augusta.

Craig Calvert with Emmanuel Kemiji.

Kemiji was born in New Jersey of Spanish and Greek parents. The family moved to Spain after he was born. He later moved to California, where he studied pre-med at the University of California at Davis, famed for its wine education program. After a summer with a favorite uncle in Spain, Kemiji returned to UC-Davis and switched to the oenology program.

He is one of 186 professionals worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier, passing the exam on his first attempt.
After graduation he ended up running the wine program at the Ritz-Carlton restaurants. One night “after everything that could go wrong did go wrong” at the San Francisco Ritz, Kemiji and some friends in the restaurant business went out for drinks. They ended up at his house where over cognac and cigars they all decided to open a winery. They also decided he should run it because of his background in wine.

Kemiji joked that you should never partner with fine restaurant chefs because they couldn’t reach a decision on anything. “It took six months to come up with a name,” he said. They settled on Miura, after Don Eduardo Miura who was a breeder of the most famous bulls used in bull fighting in Spain.

Jane and Jerry Howington with Craig Calvert.

In 1995 the seven partners harvested 2 1/2 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the famed Quintessa vineyard. Because it worked out pretty well they decided to do it again the next year. This time they only got one ton of grapes and Kemiji decided to bottle the wine for himself.

“I had 125 cases of wine sitting in my living room,” he said. “Friends in the business wanted to come by and taste it, and then they started buying a case or two for their restaurants.”

The wine was a big hit, and in 1998 Miura had its first commercial vintage of 3,000 cases. Kemiji left the Ritz in 1999 and the wine hit the market in 2000.

“You are commercial when your friends don’t drink all your wine and you have some to sell,” Kemiji said with a laugh.

Miura is known for its Pinot Noirs. Kemiji said they follow the winemaking model from Burgundy, a more natural style than many other wineries around the world. “We only use natural yeasts found on the grapes and we don’t filter or fine,” he said. “That makes winemaking more difficult but we feel it adds extra layers of flavor.”
The wines served at Calvert’s proved his point. All were rich and complex, great examples of how good Pinot Noir can be in the right hands. Except for the Monterey Pinot, all the wines are made in small lots of 200-300 cases each.

Kemiji kept the diners entertained throughout the evening as he described each wine. Craig Calvert, who owns Calvert’s Restaurant with his wife Beverly, and his staff kept the crowd satisfied with fantastic food that was perfectly paired to the wines.

Wine assistance at the dinner was provided by Vineyard Wine Market
Where: Calvert’s Restaurant in Surrey Center.
When: Tuesday, January 24, 2012. 6:30 PM.

Here is the evening’s menu:
Course 1
Gran Sarao Cava Brut (Spain)
Paired with: Light hors d’oeuvres
Winery: Gran Sarao

Wine notes: The sparkling wine was excellent, crisp and clean. One of the highlights of the appetizers was a seared scallop dish that featured some nice spiciness.

Course 2
Miura Pinot Noir Monterey County 2008 (California)
Paired with: Green lentil soup w/ smoked sausage & crusty gruyere toast
Winery: Miura

Wine notes: The soup was outstanding, a nice match for the approachable Monterey Pinot. This wine had the best nose of the night, and would be a wonderful all-purpose everyday wine. It was soft and smooth, with a pleasant finish.

Course 3
Miura Silacci Vineyard Monterey County 2007 (California)
Paired with: Mixed Greens Salad w/ apples, pears, craisins, walnuts- green goddess dressing & sliced avocados
Winery: Miura

Wine notes: This was an interesting salad, with a mix of flavors. The single-vineyard Pinot had more body and structure than the Monterey wine. The vineyard is in the northernmost part of the Santa Lucia Highlands featuring a cool climate.

Trish and Clint Bryant.

Course 4
Miura Pinot Noir “Pisoni” Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands 2009 (California)
Paired with: Cedar planked blackened salmon w/ pinot noir reduction & roasted potatoes
Winery: Miura

Wine notes: Considered a cult wine because of its strong following, the Pisoni showed great depth and complexity. It was another perfect pairing with an incredible Salmon dish. Kemiji said the Pisoni vineyard is the most talked about Pinot vineyard in California, and only 10 wineries get grapes from it. He described grower Gary Pisoni as a guy who had a lot of fun in the ’60s and still has a lot of fun. Pisoni got his grape vines by picking up cuttings off the ground at the famed La Tache vineyard in Burgundy and bringing them home in his suitcase. He planted them on a ranch his father owned and happened upon a great combination of soil and weather that perfectly suited the grapes. Kemiji first got some of his grapes in 1999. The Silacci vineyard grows grapes from the same cuttings, but the Pisoni vineyard is farther south along the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Course 5
Arrels Monstant Clos Oblidat Sangre de Garnatxa 2006 (Montsant, Spain)
Paired with: Grilled leg of lamb w/ Argentinian mint sauce
Winery: Arrels

Wine notes: The lamb was mouth-watering, with just a hint of mint adding just the right touch. The wine, made of 100% Garnacha grapes, was fruity but very dry, with an intense flavor. It comes from Kemiji’s first Spanish vineyard, which he bought with three French chefs from California in 2003. Arrels is the Catalan word for “roots of the vine.”

Course 6
Clos Pissarra El Ramon Priorat 2008 (Spain)
Paired with: Tenderloin of beef stroganoff w/ wild mushroom saffron rice
Winery: Clos Pissarra

Wine notes: The beef stroganoff served on rice was another exquisite dish. It was well matched by the wine, a blend of Carignane, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a wine that continued to open up and improve in the glass. Pissarra is the Catalan word for slate. The last two wines come from the Priorat area, widely considered the area that produces the best Spanish wine.

Course 7
Paired with: Chevre stuffed chocolate brownie w/ fresh berries.