Our approach to Pinot Noir is very similar to Chardonnay but we have two clones. For the last 25 years, we’ve been working on selecting which of the two we preferred and we finally came to the conclusion that the answer was both. We’ve been planting our newer Pinot Noir Vineyards with a field mix of the two selections of late, giving deference to neither and laying the groundwork for our next generation of Pinot Noirs to be as transparent to site, and their relativity to each other, as are our Chardonnays. Both selections are marked by very low yields, small berries, great concentration, and color in the fruit and a propensity to hold their natural acids during ripening.
Kistler focuses on two proprietary heritage selections of Pinot Noir. Tiny berries, deep color and natural concentration of flavors are the hallmarks of both selections. These fragile clones typically yield between 1.5 and 2.5 tons per acre of high acid grapes. Pinot Noir has always been in Kistler’s vision but vineyard development has been one of constant and never-ending improvement. Every vine is planted with the intention of making single-vineyard wine of the highest quality. It often takes 10-15 years for Pinot Noir to manifest a vineyard’s full potential. In the interim, our Pinot Noir sites inform multi-vineyard bottlings.
In Burgundy, some wines are simply labeled Premier Cru without designating a specific site. These wines still demonstrate superior quality but not necessarily a single vineyard expression. Kistler has several small block vineyards along the Laguna Ridge of the Russian River Valley and further west where the ridgeline crosses into the Sonoma Coast AVA. Although Goldridge sand is predominant, there are isolated pockets where the soil is rich in iron oxide and bands of gravel. This red-orange soil combined with the cool ocean influence provides the ideal terroir for Pinot Noir. The young vines support two wines that show the regional expression of Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast.
Throughout the growing season the vines are nurtured, leaves are pulled and fruit is dropped to attain optimal flavor development. Sampling involves tasting grapes and measuring sugar and acidity to determine the ideal pick date. The goal is to pick the fruit on the perfect day when the fruit needs no amelioration. Consequently, the Pinot Noir is picked on average about 3 days earlier than in previous years. All harvesting is done by hand at night when the fruit is freshest and brightest. The early start allows for unhurried sorting of the cool grapes the next morning.
Pinot Noir clusters are meticulously sorted upon reception. Each vineyard block is handled separately, esteemed, and reorganized in separate individual bins. Precise analysis of acidity and sugar levels of each bin dictates the ideal combination for each open-top fermentation tank. These tanks are only used once each vintage so each fermentation can be handled as slowly and carefully. A crew watches the Pinot fermentations day and night constantly monitoring temperatures looking for fluctuations. No punch downs are scheduled. When necessary a gentle stirring occurs to moderate temperatures. The objective is to extract as little tannin as possible. Only free-run juice is put into barrel, no pressing occurs. After 10 months of maturation in French oak barrels, the wine is racked just once into a bottling tank. The wine is bottled without fining or filtration.
Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is crafted exclusively for restaurants. The 2017 vintage was the shortest harvest on record lasting only 10 days and concluding just before Labor Day. It was a race to harvest all the grapes before the imminent heat wave. The fruit came in with naturally balanced acids and sugars and an inherent density reflecting the low crops of the vintage. Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir has a ruby color with red tints. Fruit aromas in this bottling are more subdued with hints of white cherries and strawberries. There is a savory component to this wine on the palate. Nuances of dry green herbs and black olives combine with a layered red fruit profile. There is a freshness in the finish reflecting the wines vibrant natural acidity. This wine will age and develop for 5-7 years.