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2018 Spring Release Newsletter

2015 Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth
2015 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine
2015 SWK Vineyard
2015 Occidental Station Vineyard

We are pleased to announce our Spring 2018 Release, which includes the 2015 Bodega Headlands Cuvée Elizabeth, the 2015 Occidental Station Cuvée Catherine, and the 2015 SWK Vineyard. We will also offer the 2016 Freestone-Occidental pinot noir, which will give members a preview of the outstanding 2016 pinot noir vintage.

The 2015 Growing Season

The defining elements of the 2015 growing season were the early bud break, which began 2.5 weeks earlier than normal, and the cold wet weather during flowering, which drastically reduced crop size. In most years near harvest, we walk through each of our vineyards to determine which blocks have experienced the most millerandage (hens and chicks) so that we can ferment them with special care and perhaps bottle them separately. In 2015, the poor weather in May and June led to widespread millerandage in all our vineyards with nearly all the clusters being loosely filled with tiny berries. This caused yields to be painfully low, but I have rarely worked with pinot noir fruit with such concentration and intensity of flavor.

To preserve freshness and a sense of refinement in 2015, we fermented the wines as gently as possible using a larger percentage of whole-clusters and limiting the number of punch downs to only those needed to distribute the heat of fermentation rather than to extract more color or tannin. The results are striking wines which capture the high-toned, chiseled red fruit character that is a signature of our coastal vineyards. The 2015 pinot noirs are vibrant, intense wines with vivid aromatics that will age beautifully, developing a certain savoriness and depth over time.

Here are my brief tasting notes on our pinot noirs:

2015 Bodega Headlands Cuvée Elizabeth

Pristine, high-pitched aromas of raspberry, red currant, and crushed stone convey a subtly wild aspect. Possesses outstanding energy and precision and a superb balance of red fruit and saline elements. Finishes extremely long with a captivating floral perfume.

2015 Occidental Station Cuvée Catherine

Vivid aromas of purple fruits, wildflowers, and graphite. A powerful, bracing minerality accents the flavors of blueberry, violet, and cassis. Offers incredible intensity and concentration without any sense of undue weight. Finishes vibrant and long, with sweet tannins and a rising perfume.

2015 SWK Vineyard

Deep, soil-driven aromas of tiny red berries, crushed flowers, and minerals. A very precise, crystalline wine with bright acidity providing sharp definition and energy. There is an intriguing saline character to its intense red berry flavors. Finishes with fine grained tannins and long, rising length.

2016 Freestone-Occidental

Captivating aromas of high-toned raspberry and red currant, rose petal, and spice. Possesses the energy, precision, and purity of flavor that gives all the Occidental wines lift and perfume, along with the deeper soil tones that contribute to complexity. Remarkably vivid and beautifully layered, this wine shows elegance and great overall balance.

We encourage all members to decant and enjoy the Occidental pinot noirs soon after their release. Decanting these young wines at least an hour before serving will enhance their compelling primary aromas and flavors. We also recommend aging these wines to enjoy the complex secondary flavors and character that will develop in bottle.

The Occidental wines are the highlight of my career. Since the early 1990s I believed that the climate and soils on the uplifted marine terraces and ridges around the town of Bodega would be ideal for growing distinctive, world-class pinot noir. In 1999, I was fortunate enough to purchase the 100-acre Bodega Headlands property, and a few years later the 250-acre Bodega Ridge property on the same ridge top overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Today, Occidental farms 85 acres of pinot noir from our Bodega Headlands and Bodega Ridge properties. These extreme coastal sites are among the coldest and latest ripening vineyards in the Freestone-Occidental area, and they represent the western edge of where pinot noir can be successfully grown on the Sonoma Coast. These Occidental vineyards showcase our commitment and ability to farm these maritime sites with all the skill, perseverance, and tenacity that they demand.

The Wildfires

The wildfires in Sonoma touched many of those closest to us. Mark lost his home in the first hours of the fire. That same night, many of our vineyard and winery workers who live in one of the hardest hit areas of Santa Rosa were evacuated and unsure for days if their homes had survived. For one week after the fire, there were nearly thirty people, all employees and their families, who sought shelter at the winery and camped out in tents and sleeping bags. The young children, who were happy not to be in school for a few days, covered the cement floors of the winery with colorful chalk drawings of their favorite action heroes, and played games of tic tac toe and soccer non-stop. For this one week it meant a lot to everyone to be together under one roof to support one another and to cope with the frightening experience they had all just been through.

During the last days of the fire, the original Kistler winery that stood on a ridge above Glen Ellen was lost. For years, I lived in the two rooms above the underground cellar there until we moved the Kistler Vineyards’ operations to its current address in the Russian River Valley.

Remembering Mark Bixler

One of our deepest regrets going forward is that Mark, my longtime business partner, will not be able to see Occidental grow and reach new heights in the future. He was so looking forward to continuing his involvement with Occidental, and to mentor my daughters Catherine and Elizabeth in all areas of the world of fine wine. I first met Mark when he was teaching one of my college chemistry classes. He was always generous with his time and was happiest throughout his life sharing his vast knowledge on a wide range of subjects, especially wine, with all those who knew him. Thanks to all of you that have sent along kind words remembering Mark; the relationships that he formed with many of you meant a great deal to him.

Looking Forward

Today we have come full-circle and are once again proprietors of a small family winery with one goal in mind – to make world-class pinot noir from our vineyards on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

For years my hope has been that my daughters would join me at Occidental and that we would work together farming the Occidental vineyards and making the wines. Happily, that day has finally come.

We are also excited to announce that Susan Skubic will be joining us at Occidental. All long-time members of the Kistler mailing list know Susan well and appreciate what an important role she has played over the last fifteen years, seeing to it that our Spring and Fall releases run as smoothly as possible.

Next year, with the Spring 2019 Release, Occidental will offer its first vineyard-designated pinot noir from our Bodega Ridge property. The new wine will be named 2016 Running Fence Vineyard, and is as exciting a young pinot noir as I have ever produced. In the future, tasting the Running Fence Vineyard pinot noirs alongside those from the adjacent Bodega Headlands vineyards should provide many interesting points of comparison.

Reviews of our Spring Release

Antonio Galloni visited the winery in the fall of 2016 to taste the 2015 Occidental pinot noirs before they were bottled. His ratings are listed below and the full text of his reviews can be found in the Press section of the Occidental website.

2015 Bodega Headlands Cuvée Elizabeth 94-97

2015 Occidental Station Cuvée Catherine 95-98

2015 SWK Vineyard 95-98


Please understand that production levels of some wines are down in 2015. Also, this is our first release using a first-come process, which may mean that the release will progress at a much faster pace. As a result, we have purposefully tried to be conservative with our initial allocations to give all members a better opportunity to purchase our wine. If you would like to purchase additional bottles, indicate so with a Wish Request, which we will grant based on availability at the end of the release.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at or by telephone at 707-827-1655. Susan, Catherine, Elizabeth, or Cassie will be happy to assist you.

To purchase Kistler Vineyards chardonnay, please visit the Kistler Vineyards website at

We wish you a healthy and happy New Year and appreciate your continued support.

Steve Kistler and the Kistler Family
Proprietors, Occidental

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