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2023 Spring Release Newsletter

2020 Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth
2020 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine
2020 SWK Vineyard
2020 Bodega Ridge Vineyard
2020 Occidental Station Vineyard

We are proud to announce the Occidental 2023 Spring Release, which includes our five single-vineyard pinot noirs from the 2020 vintage.

Our Bodega Headlands and Bodega Ridge properties are uniquely situated on a ridge overlooking the town of Bodega and in direct line of sight to the Pacific Ocean.

It seems with each passing year there are an increasing number of wine writers and producers who are saying that these coastal ridges are emerging as the most compelling area for growing pinot noir on the Sonoma Coast. Only time will tell. But today, there is certainly no denying how striking the pinot noirs are from these sites.

Growing pinot noir on this ridge has its own challenges distinct from other parts of the Freestone-Occidental area, and worlds apart from the Russian River appellation farther inland. Nearly each afternoon, strong onshore winds rush through the Estero Americano corridor and buffet the ridge with their full force. This was our saving grace in 2020.

The 2020 growing season began as the earliest since 2015. We received only half of our annual rainfall, so the soil profiles in most of our vineyard blocks were only partially full when the season started. This resulted in a small crop with loose clusters and tiny, intensely flavored berries. The summer was warm, with less fog in July than normal. By the last days of July, we were already beginning veraison and rather than having to watch the increasing number of birds flying overhead eat a single berry from our painfully small crop of pinot noir, we decided to put up bird netting over our entire eighty-five acres of vineyard. Always a major undertaking but well worth the effort in 2020.

We began picking Occidental Station Vineyard on August 18 and then picked Bodega Headlands and Bodega Ridge over the course of the next nineteen days. We were extremely patient and picked at a deliberate pace, waiting for each block to reach the early edge of ripeness. For us, the early edge is that first moment when we have full phenolic maturity while still preserving bright natural acidity and low pHs. Our final day of picking was on September 5, when we picked one of our best blocks of Bodega Headlands for the Cuvée Elizabeth bottling.

In the winery we sorted all the fruit slowly with great care. During the destemming process, maintaining the integrity of the fruit is key. Our goal is to ferment with as many intact, whole berries as possible. This ensures a slow start to fermentation and gives us the best chance of capturing the delicate pinot aromatics we desire. In 2020, the fruit was so beautiful that we chose to extend the time spent in fermenter to 21-23 days before draining. All the Occidental pinot noirs are made using only the free-run juice from the tanks; we still do not own a press.

Catherine and I are very proud of our 2020 pinot noirs. They are crystalline wines, with striking red-fruit character. They have much in common with the best of our most recent vintages – purity, precision, and a clear sense of place. There is no mistaking that these pinot noirs were grown close to the ocean; each has a discreet salty edge which adds to their coastal character.

Each year, we release our Freestone-Occidental bottling to our fine dining and select retail partners, both foreign and domestic, nearly twelve months before the single vineyard wines from the same vintage. This means that many of you may have already had the opportunity to enjoy our 2020 Freestone-Occidental at your favorite restaurant. James Molesworth of The Wine Spectator recently awarded the wine 95+ points. While the 2020 Freestone-Occidental is indeed an outstanding wine, we are certain that you will find our 2020 single-vineyard wines even more impressive.

The 2020 Pinot Noirs: Our brief tasting notes

2020 Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth

Vibrant, very pure red aromatics of red raspberry, rose petals, and crushed strawberry. Extremely high-toned and seamless with a superb concentration of fruit. Brisk acidity and fine-grained tannins accentuate the wine’s saline character. Its red fruit flavors are beautifully defined and focused. Finishes with great energy and exquisite balance.

2020 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvée Catherine

Luminous ruby color in the glass, like a jewel. There is a distinct marine influence here, like ocean brine, iodine, and tidal pools at low tide. This is followed by an array of tiny red and black berries, laced with a violet floral note. On the palate, vivid flavors of black raspberry and black cherry are lifted by neon blood orange. Extremely long, persistent finish. A truly singular wine.

2020 SWK Vineyard

Captivating bouquet of wild red berries, crushed flowers, and fresh thyme. Savory as well as floral, with layers of red and darker berry tones. Chiseled and precise, and clearly the most mineral-rich in character. Flavors of tiny alpine strawberries and tart red currants have a salty edge to them. Turns even more savory and saline on the long finish.

2020 Bodega Ridge Vineyard

Brilliant in every way. Striking aromatics of red and blue fruits are electric in character. There is a distinct saltiness to this wine, like blue-green seaweed or dark, cold sea-water. Highly detailed on the palate with purple and dark berry flavors that build in intensity. The wine is ultraviolet, a near perfect balance of brightness and depth.

2020 Occidental Station Vineyard

A stunning bouquet of purple fruit, cassis, and boysenberry that leaps from the glass. A very precise wine, framed by its firm acidity and grounded in its gravelly minerality. Silky tannins are entirely folded into the fruit. Finishes bursting with vibrant purple flavors and a rising violet perfume.

We encourage members to begin enjoying our 2020 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. Another option is to double decant the wine and serve immediately. While it will be hard to resist enjoying the 2020 pinot noirs as young wines, we believe they will be long-lived wines and will certainly reward extended aging. Over time, our 2020 pinot noirs will develop complex tertiary flavors and character in bottle and will age gracefully for two decades.

Looking Forward

Next year, we will release our tenth vintage of Occidental. To mark this milestone, Catherine and I thought members might enjoy if we shared our impressions of the 2011-2021 pinot noirs in our 2024 Spring Release Newsletter.

We are constantly comparing one vintage of our wine to another. That is the best way for us to see whether the changes we are making in the winery and vineyards are improving wine quality. It is particularly gratifying to see how our efforts in the vineyard have paid off as the wines in recent vintages seem to be going from one strength to another.

Our primary goal each growing season is to promote early, uniform ripeness in all our vineyards. This allows us to pick our pinot at the first moment its phenolics are mature and its coastal signature is strongest.

With each vintage, our wines have become more marine influenced and transparent to site. This has encouraged us to look for even cooler sites closer to the ocean.

Late in 2021, we found an exciting property halfway between our winery on Bodega Ridge and the Pacific Ocean that will push the boundary where pinot noir can be grown to the limit. After a year’s wait for our permits from the County, we are finally ready to begin developing this groundbreaking site in the spring.

The western edge where vineyards are being planted in the Freestone-Occidental area is constantly being redrawn and reimagined. This is where truly cutting-edge pinot noir is being made today.

Your Allocation

Allocations are based on your length of time on our list, purchase history, and the production level of each wine.

The Occidental pinot noirs are offered on a first-come basis, which may mean that the release will proceed at a fast pace. Once again, we have been conservative with our initial allocations to give all members an 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.

Please take a moment to review and update your personal information before the release starts. If you have any questions, please contact us at 707-827-1655 or email

We will be happy to assist you with your order.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year. We appreciate your continued support.

Steve Kistler and the Kistler Family
Proprietors, Occidental

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