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2020 Spring Release Newsletter

2017 Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth
2017 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine
2017 SWK Vineyard
2017 Occidental Station Vineyard

We are proud to announce the Occidental 2020 Spring Release, which includes our four single-vineyard pinot noirs.

40 Years

Before discussing the 2017 pinot noirs, my daughters insist it is worth noting that the 2019 harvest, now resting safely in barrel, marks the 40th vintage I have been making wine under our family’s brand. Even though I began my career producing chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon in the Mayacamas Mountains, my first love was always pinot noir and I am so happy today to devote all my time and energy to making world-class pinot noirs at Occidental with my family.

If you count my three harvests at Ridge Vineyards before founding Kistler, this is my forty-third year in wine. I remember that first harvest at Ridge well. One of my jobs was to drive the flatbed truck from Monte Bello up the coast to pick up zinfandel fruit harvested that morning from a small vineyard between the town of Sebastopol and Occidental. Ridge called this vineyard “Occidental Vineyard” and for years it produced arguably Ridge’s most prized zinfandel.

That was the first time I had ever been to Occidental or Freestone, or had seen the dramatic headlands overlooking the tiny coastal town of Bodega. I remember how striking those marine terraces were and couldn’t help but wonder if one day there might be vineyards planted there that reached all the way to the ocean. At that time in the mid-1970s, there were still no vineyards on the ridges west of the town of Occidental.

Since that time there has been a steady march west to plant pinot noir vineyards on colder sites closer to the ocean. Today, a small number of the coldest, latest ripening vineyards in the Freestone-Occidental area help to define the western edge of where world-class pinot noir can be grown in California.

I was part of that movement, and today am lucky to farm pinot noir vineyards that I began planting in 1999 on the same headlands overlooking Bodega that I saw over forty years ago. These are truly special sites and my family and I are committed to giving them all the attention and care they deserve in the future. The Occidental pinot noirs we are producing from these vineyards are without question the most exciting wines of my career.

“While everyone knows of Steve Kistler’s remarkable chardonnays, I believe his pinot noir will ultimately prove even more historic.” – Robert Parker, Jr.

The 2017 Growing Season

The growing season for our coastal vineyards was cooler than normal during the summer months of June, July, and early August. We had more than our fair share of wet, foggy mornings even by coastal standards. We were thankful each afternoon when the sun would finally appear and the onshore breezes would pick up and help dry out our vine canopies for another day. Throughout the summer, our vineyards benefitted from these mild, slow-ripening conditions, even though they presented challenges for us.

Conditions changed in the final days of August when unusually warm temperatures accelerated ripening and our pinot noir vineyards soon reached what we call “the early edge of ripeness” – that first sign that the picking window is beginning to open. This is the precise moment we want to pick our pinot noir in order to produce wines that convey a strong coastal character, i.e., wines that have a low pH, bright natural acidity, moderate alcohol, and feature an underlying saline quality that is the signature of our vineyards on top of the ridge. Ruben Molinar, our vineyard manager for over thirty years, worked tirelessly along with his crew to harvest all our pinot noir on Bodega Headlands and Bodega Ridge, 85 acres of vineyard, in just four nights. The results of their efforts are these remarkable pinot noirs.

The 2017 Occidental pinot noirs are wonderfully transparent wines, brimming with energy and chiseled red-fruit character. They are precise, finely-etched wines that capture the beauty of our maritime sites as well as the challenging conditions that they face. They speak with such a distinct voice that it is hard to imagine they could have come from anywhere else.

Here are my brief tasting notes on our pinot noirs:

2017 Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth

High-pitched aromas of wild strawberries, raspberry, and crushed flowers. A crystalline wine that offers a nearly perfect balance of crunchy red fruits and oyster shell minerality. Silky, perfumed, and stunningly beautiful; there is something ethereal about the nose. A wine with tremendous concentration that remains remarkably light on its feet. Finishes with great energy, definition, and floral intensity.

2017 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine

An extraordinarily pure bouquet of black raspberry and black cherry, laced with blood orange. A touch of brine accents these aromas and conveys a subtly wild aspect. Delivers outstanding intensity and density for a wine with just 13.4% alcohol. Very precise and detailed on the palate, with its impressive array of red and dark berry flavors energized by a soil-driven salinity. A compelling, marine-influenced pinot noir.

2017 SWK Vineyard

High-pitched aromas of red currants, rose petal, and crushed stone. A finely-etched wine with a chiseled, penetrating quality; a very transparent and site-specific pinot noir, with intense red fruit flavors marked by an element of sea salt. Finishes savory and very long with layers of mineral-rich red fruit and earth tones.

2017 Occidental Station Vineyard

Striking aromas of boysenberry, violet, and cassis. Superb concentration and intensity on the palate without any dimension of weight. Deep, powerful, and bursting with energy. A strong sense of minerality infuses the purple flavors with terrific drive and tension. Finishes very long and precise with a rising violet perfume.

We encourage all members to begin enjoying our 2017 pinot noirs soon after their release. We find that decanting them an hour or two before service will enhance their compelling primary aromas and flavor. Our 2017 pinot noirs will develop complex tertiary flavors and character over time in bottle, and will age gracefully for two decades or more.

Our Newest Pinot Noir

The highlight of our harvest in 2019 is that, after years of patiently waiting, we produced our first vintage of Bodega Ridge Vineyard pinot noir. The Bodega Ridge Vineyard is one of our most special sites. It is a 25-acre vineyard that sits on the highest point of the ridge overlooking the Running Fence Vineyard and Occidental winery. From this vantage point, you can see the Freestone Valley to the east, and the fishing boats on Bodega Bay to the west. Much of the vineyard is planted on steep south-southeast facing slopes, but there are varied exposures and aspects throughout the site. The soils are shallow, marine sandstones that are low in vigor, self-regulating, and with just enough water-holding capacity to be dry-farmed. In other words, ideal. The 2019 Bodega Ridge Vineyard pinot noir will be released in 2022, and will quickly become one of our most important bottlings in the years to come.

Looking Ahead

In response to many of your requests for large-format bottlings, we are happy to announce that we will begin to bottle at least one of our single-vineyard pinot noirs in magnum each year. The first wine we have chosen is the 2018 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine, which will be offered to the mailing list in Spring 2021.

Members have also asked when Occidental will begin offering its wines twice a year, in both a Spring and Fall Release. The answer: very soon.

Visit Occidental

In 2019, my daughter Catherine, Mia Molinar (Ruben’s daughter) and I have enjoyed hosting many of you at our tasting facility that looks out over the Running Fence Vineyard and our winery. The view is quite dramatic from our tasting room – on one day you might watch a storm roll in over the headlands from the Pacific, on another, observe the summer fog suddenly lift to reveal our vineyards bordered by ancient redwoods. When you taste our pinot noirs in this setting, it is easy to understand why they have such a distinct coastal character.

We look forward to seeing many more of you in 2020. Please go to the Occidental website to schedule a visit.

Your Allocation

Allocations are based on your length of time on our list, your purchase history, and the production level of each wine. Members who are buying on a consistent basis will be given priority.

The Occidental pinot noirs are offered on a first-come basis, which may mean that the release will progress at a faster pace. Again this year, we have been conservative with our initial allocations in order to give all members a better opportunity to purchase our wines. If you wish to purchase additional bottles, please make a wish request. We will grant as many requests as possible at the end of the release.

For your convenience, an auto-login link will be provided via email at the start of the release, which is the most direct way to begin the ordering process.

Please take a moment to review your personal information before the release starts. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by phone at 707-827-1655 or email Susan, Catherine, Mia, or Cassie will be happy to assist you.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year. We appreciate your continued support of our family winery.

Steve Kistler and the Kistler Family
Proprietors, Occidental

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