When Kenny Likitprakong pulled up in his rental car, I was taken aback by the young man who hopped out, clad in a baseball cap, T-shirt and gold loops in each ear. He looked to be about 12.
After a quick introduction and many requests for aid in pronouncing this child’s last name, Likitprakong was drilled over dinner about his family history.
Likitprakong is a Thai name. Phonetically, it is roughly pronounced la kip ra kong. Kenny’s father, Somchai, was born in China, but his family fled to Thailand during the Communist Revolution.
Somchai eventually moved to New York, where he met his wife and Kenny’s mother, a Jewish girl from Brooklyn. Kenny laughingly said it was interesting growing up in a household with a Jewish mother and a practicing Buddhist father.
The patriarch of the family, Supasit Mahaguna, Kenny’s great uncle, was a very successful liquor distributor in Thailand. In the early 1970s, he bought Domaine St. George Winery in Sonoma, Calif., and called on Kenny’s father to move from New York to take over the helm of the winery.
Kenny explained that, in Chinese culture, elders are greatly respected. When summoned by an elder, younger family members comply. His father complied over the objections of his wife, who did not want to leave her nearby Brooklyn relatives. She eventually happily settled in California.
Kenny’s heritage is an unlikely one in the California wine industry, but Kenny grew up in Sonoma as a typical California kid, skateboarding and surfing — passions he still pursues today.
Kenny’s father is still a principal in Domaine St. George, although Kenny did not immediately follow in his father’s footsteps.
He spent a short stint in Theater Arts at UC Santa Cruz, and later spent a year studying creative writing at San Francisco State, before taking off to roam over Europe. Kenny eventually moved back to California, settled down and got a degree at UC Davis.
But Kenny roamed the world living pretty much like a hobo from the time he was 17 until 24. When he started his own wine label, he named his major wine brand Hobo.
He still roams, but now it is over California vineyards and across the country promoting his brands.
Kenny launched Hobo wines in 2002. Though he farms a few small plots, most of his grapes are sourced through long-term contracts with other growers.
His wines are greatly influenced by winemaking techniques studied on his travels throughout France. They show restraint in style and alcohol. Kenny believes in minimal interventive winemaking, allowing wine grapes just to do what comes naturally.
Likitprakong makes an array of wines, but only three are available locally. Try one of the following from Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs.
The Banyon Gewurztraminer 2011. Gewurztraminer is a white grape most readily akin to riesling in flavor and mouthfeel. This is pleasantly dry with little residual sugar. Kenny recommends this with spicy Thai dishes. $9.75.
Hobo Branham Rockpile Vineyard Zinfandel. Very restrained zinfandel. Low in alcohol by today’s standards. Not a big, fruity zin, but a versatile red. Wine Enthusiast gave this wine a 92. $25.50.
Hobo Cabernet Alexander Valley. Vibrant fruit flavors. Missing that slight sweet approach typical of many California cabs. Slightly herbaceous. Well-made and balanced. Perhaps better with pizza than steak. $15.75.