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2019 Spring Release Newsletter

2016 Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth
2016 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine
2016 SWK Vineyard
2016 Occidental Station Vineyard

We are pleased to announce our Spring 2019 Release, and to offer our Occidental 2016 vineyard-designated pinot noirs – the Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth, SWK Vineyard, Occidental Station Vineyard, and of special note, the first vintage of the Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine. This year marks an important milestone for Occidental, as both our cuvées, Catherine and Elizabeth, will now be produced from our two most prized ridgetop vineyards overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In the Tradition

At the end of 2017 I stepped away from Kistler Vineyards and returned to making wine on a smaller scale. As the proprietor of Occidental, my family’s winery that I founded in 2011, I am now able to devote all my time and energy to farming our coastal vineyards and producing small lots of world-class pinot noir.

The Bodega Headlands and Bodega Ridge properties are the heart of Occidental and deserve my undivided attention and care. These vineyards, which I began developing in 1999, have far exceeded my expectations with each passing vintage.

Today, Occidental produces 6000 cases of pinot noir, which is impressive by Burgundian standards. My family lives at the top of our Bodega Headlands property, next door to the winery on Bodega Ridge. This gives me more time to spend in our vineyards and winery, and to meet long-time mailing list members who visit Occidental to taste our wines and to see all that we have been working on for the past twenty years.

This year at harvest it was easy to run over to the winery in the middle of the night to monitor tanks of fermenting pinot noir, just as I did years ago when I lived above the underground cellar of the original winery and made the very first vintages of Kistler wine.

The scale and pace of harvest at Occidental reminds me of those early days. At Occidental I now have just two coastal vineyards to farm and can focus on picking each of them at precisely the right moment when flavors are at their peak; in the cellar I make fewer than 250 barrels of pinot noir each year. Execution is everything at this level of production, and every member of our Vineyard and Cellar teams takes pride in their attention to detail and in performing even the simplest tasks with care.

I am so happy to be making wine again on a small scale in the Burgundian tradition, and to be working alongside my daughters each day to take Occidental to new heights in the future. There is nothing I would rather do.

The 2016 Growing Season

The 2016 growing season was nearly perfect in our coastal pinot noir vineyards. A wet winter and early spring rains refilled soil profiles and signaled the end of the drought. This allowed us to dry-farm our vineyards as we typically do, even though they are grown on shallow, sandstone soils. The moderate, slow ripening conditions during the final thirty days before harvest could not have come at a better time. Our pinot noir fruit reached the early edge of ripeness just as temperatures turned cool for an extended period of time (10-14 days).

Flavors continued to develop slowly without much rise in sugar over those days. Rarely does this ideal picking window last for so long, and our pinot noirs benefited from these favorable and mild conditions.

The 2016 Pinot Noirs

The 2016 Occidental pinot noirs are precise, site-specific wines that clearly reflect their place of origin. In fact, they speak with such a distinct voice it is hard to imagine that they could have come from anywhere else. A cool growing season like 2016 sharpens the expression of these coastal vineyards and sets them apart from all others.

The 2016 Occidental pinot noirs are crystalline, mineral-laced wines. They feature an impressive array of chiseled red fruits, along with a delicate saline quality – a signature of our ridgetop vineyards that makes them so compelling. This elusive character is seldom found in pinot noir grown on warmer sites farther inland.

Of special note this year is the first vineyard-designated pinot noir from our Bodega Ridge property – the 2016 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine. We began developing Bodega Ridge over ten years ago, and it is very rewarding to watch this remarkable site begin to reach its full potential. This wine is the first in a series of three outstanding vintages (2016 – 2018) from this vineyard and will provide an interesting point of comparison with the wines produced from our neighboring Bodega Headlands Vineyard.

As a footnote, the pH of a wine can tell you a lot about the quality of the site where it is grown. The pHs of the 2016 Occidental pinot noirs are lower than any of the Grand Cru red burgundies we analyzed from the coolest, most classic recent vintages such as 2010 or 2013.

Here are my brief tasting notes on our pinot noirs:

2016 Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth

High-pitched aromas of red raspberry, crushed stone, and rose petal. A pure, crystalline wine that features a stunning combination of precision, finesse, and razor-edged salinity. This is a beautifully layered and balanced wine that finishes with bright red fruit and floral intensity.

2016 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine

A striking nose combines the wild red berry aromas of the Cuvée Elizabeth and SWK Vineyard with darker tones of black raspberry, violets, and oriental spice. This vivid mix of red and black fruits is braced by a beam of salty minerality that adds structure and tension to this outstanding wine. Finishes with great energy, length, and a rising perfume.

2016 SWK Vineyard

Captivating aromas of wild red berries, crushed flowers and fresh thyme. Finely-etched and precise with a strong, soil-driven character. An intriguing saline quality accentuates the intense red berry flavors. Turns more savory on the finish with fine-grained tannins and subtle, rising length.

2016 Occidental Station Vineyard

Deeply-pitched aromas of purple fruits, graphite and cassis. A stony mineral quality energizes and elevates the palate, which features a compelling mix of red and black fruit flavors. Delivers great intensity and concentration without any impression of weight. Finishes vibrant and long with a delicate violet and blackcurrant perfume.

We strongly encourage all members to decant and enjoy these Occidental pinot noirs soon after their release. The 2016 pinot noirs especially will benefit from being decanted an hour or two before service to enhance their compelling primary aromas and flavor. The 2016 pinot noirs will be extremely long-lived wines that will develop complex secondary flavors and character over time in bottle.

Visit Occidental

In the Spring of 2018, without formal announcement, we began to welcome small groups of mailing list members to our new tasting room, which looks out over the Running Fence Vineyard. My daughter Catherine, Mia Molinar, and I have enjoyed meeting some of you over the past few months and would like to officially invite all of you to come and see us this year. Please go to the Occidental website to schedule a visit.


Allocations are based on your length of time on our list, your purchase history, and the production level of each wine. Members who purchased wine in our most recent Spring 2018 Release will be given priority. The Occidental pinot noirs are sold on a first-come basis, which may mean that the release will progress at a fast pace. This year we have been conservative with our initial allocations in order to give all members on our list a better opportunity to purchase our wines. Please keep in mind you may request additional bottles by placing a Wish Request. We will grant as many requests as possible at the end of the release.

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

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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