Sta. Rita Hills
Kessler-Haak is planted in the Sta Rita Hills right next door to Clos Pepe vineyard, which we worked with from 1999-2008. Over those years we saw that this patch of the appellation, which is cool and dominated by sandy loam soils, produces Pinot Noir that is vibrantly fruity and high acid. Those traits are boons for exploring something we’d been looking to augment our offerings of Pinot Noir with—a prominently whole-cluster driven Pinot Noir.
We tinkered with other sites first, but Adam decided that in order to pull it off correctly we needed to this patch of Sta Rita Hills. In the first year we were experimental and fermented two lots. The whole cluster wine was softer in acidity, pleasantly grippy with tannins but overall quite herbal. The destemmed lot was zippy, fresh, fruity, but a little too straightforward. Together though, they were terrific. The approach affirmed, we now ferment with the whole cluster half beneath the destemmed fruit in the same tank.
In 2016 we enjoyed the first relatively cool year in this vineyard, and so we found a new expression. In ’14 and ’15 the stems spoke with a clear voice, which was okay with us because the wine was intended to be different. With this release the fruit is so profound the stems provide more subtle accent. Minty cool-hued herbal notes are like a fine gauze over fleshy red fruit, with those orange zest and pomegranate streaks we’re learning come with the site. Stems also bring a notable fine inward tug of tannin here, so this one can take heartier food pairings—stuff with some grill char is a good place to start.
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir | Alc: 13% | Vinification: Barrel fermented in French Oak, 10% New | Barrel Aging: 16 Months | Total Production: 277 cases
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!
“Lots of cherries, strawberries, savory herbs, and salty minerality flow from the 2016 Pinot Noir Kessler Haak, which is medium-bodied and more structured and tannic than some of the other releases. With plenty of fruit, rock solid mid-palate depth, and building tannins, give it a year or three.” Jeb Dunnuck- 93+ Points
Antonio Galloni’s Vinous
“The 2016 Pinot Noir Kessler Haak Vineyard is delicate and very nicely balanced, with all of its elements in the right place. Sandy soils and 50% whole clusters both accent the aromatics and inner perfume. The 2016 finishes with terrific energy and cut to round things out.” 2018-2026 – AG 92 points