Sta. Rita Hills

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This site is taking form as our statement of what whole cluster grapes can do for pinot noir, and it’s in spectacular form in this 2015, with myriad and generous flavors in fine balance. In 2015 we repeated most of what made the 2014 such a success, but with confidence in the fruit’s racy virtues this time we co-fermented the whole cluster half of the fruit at the bottom of the tanks with destemmed fruit on top.

At first there’s a soft and gracious profile on the palate with this 2015, and the wine is explosively aromatic. The red berry core of the Dijon clones here is all mingled up with deep botanical layers. With some air the wine fattens up with cherry and orange oil, and shifts focus from herbs and flowers toward a flashy, exotic spiciness. If you’ve ever made your own Morroccan rub with a mortar and pestle, this might take you back.

The textural component of stem inclusion is what I’m most excited about here: there’s an elegant and lifted firmness of stem tannins throughout the finish. It pulls together in the mouth with very energetic effect—not a bit chewy or coarse, just lively, spicy and fascinating. This wine is in fine form now, but it will age into a fabulously complex beauty over the next 10 to 15 years.

Blend: 100% Pinot Noir | Alc: 13% | Vinification: Barrel fermented in French Oak, 10% New | Barrel Aging: 16 Months | Total Production: 277 cases

Vineyard Notes:

For many years I harbored a prejudice against whole clusters in my fermentations. The house I interned at in Burgundy in 1981 utilized methode ancienne with 100% of the fruit left on stems, and the stems made their pinot noirs taste positively green, tannic and mean! Just around that time the famous Henri Jayer in Burgundy popularized using destemmed fruit to make a purer expression, and I decided that made more sense to me.

It wasn’t until recently, when some of my younger staff at the winery starting talking a lot about stem inclusion, that I decided to reexamine the idea. The trick with stems is that they impart a lot of potassium into the wine, which can raise the pH and cause an unwanted flabbiness. The other issue is that some wines are improved by stem inclusion, while others are ruined—and this all depends on the vineyard site and the maturity of the stems. I’ve begun using subtle amounts of stem inclusion in many wines lately, but I first toyed with using a lot of whole-clusters in our 2013 carbonic pinot noir from Bien Nacido’s iconic clone 22 fruit in T Block. It was a brash success, but I had ideas about how to better employ the technique. I needed a site that gave an especially tart pinot noir that needed a bit of greenery to balance out the fruit.

By coincidence, it came up that my son’s drum teacher’s father-in-law owns Kessler-Haak Vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills. Planted out in the Northwest corner of the Sta Rita Hills, Kessler-Haak is right next door to Clos Pepe vineyard, which we worked with from 1999-2008. This patch of the appellation, which is cool and dominated by sandy loam soils, produces pinot noir that is vibrantly fruity and high acid.

Assuming a similar profile to Clos Pepe, I imagined that Kessler Haak could be a great site to toy with some hefty stem inclusion. So in 2014 we did an experiment, fermenting half the Kessler Haak fruit carbonically (whole cluster and not punched down) and the other half destemmed. The results were startling. The whole cluster wine was softer in acidity, pleasantly pucker-y with tannins and generally quite herbal. The destemmed lot was zippy, fresh, fruity, but a little too straightforward and simple. Blended together the wine was sublime, and people loved it and it sold out quickly!

I’m super excited about working with Kessler Haak, the wines are proving to be dramatic and delicious, plus it’s been a pleasure to work with Dan Kessler, he’s so willing to adapt to my ideas in vineyard care. Check out what’s happening with our 2015 Kessler Haak Pinot Noir—you will not be disappointed!

Press Reviews

Antonio Galloni’s Vinous

“The 2015 Pinot Noir Kessler Haak Vineyard is one of the most exuberant wines in this range. A rush of dark red and purplish-hued stone fruits, flowers, spices and new leather makes a strong opening statement. This is an especially exotic, flamboyant, dense wine. The 50% whole clusters are felt in the 2015’s aromatic intensity, while the decision to vinify only with pumpovers seems to have brought out considerable fruit intensity.” – AG 92 points