Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler founded Kistler Vineyards in 1978, since when it has become one of California’s most revered producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Steve Kistler’s vision, pioneering at the time, was to demonstrate transparency of vineyard site. He retired in 2017, passing on the baton of winemaker to Jason Kesner who had himself performed a long apprenticeship as assistant winemaker; a new generation building on the work of their predecessors, developing and evolving. The fifteen vineyards in the North Coast stretch from western Sonoma County to Carneros. In deference to site, each of the Chardonnay bottlings are grown from the same heritage clone of Chardonnay (Old Wente) that they have been using since the start. It delivers tiny berries and small bunches, high-acid/low pH wines, and naturally low yields of 2½ to 3 tons per acre (roughly 33 to 40 hl/ha). Each of those cuvées is vinified in the same fashion, the focus being on the traditional techniques that elicit the earth driven, complex noble sulfides and resulting minerality inherent in the fruit from each site. All of the eleven vineyard-designate Chardonnays are marked first and foremost by regional characteristics, then by the personality of each of the vineyards.The bottling of wines of site is a sacred process for Kistler: it is the main focus of their efforts, often taking years to assess the quality and individual personality of a site prior to deciding to bottle it alone. Chardonnay is made using traditional Burgundian techniques and has a very distinct style, less focussed on fruit than on minerality and soil-driven character. It is barrel-fermented using indigenous yeasts, aged in 60% new French oak barrels, un-racked and in contact with all of its fermentation lees, undergoes full malolactic fermentation, and receives minimal handling and processing. It is bottled unfiltered and unfined after eleven to eighteen months of barrel maturation. The Pinot Noirs are also made from the same clonal material: two small-clustered, low-yielding clones (Calera & Swan) that were originally imported from “a Grand Cru vineyard in Burgundy.” It is fermented in open-top fermenters and the free-run juice is barrel-aged for fourteen to eighteen months before bottling. Kistler’s goal for the Pinot Noirs is to capture the elusive Pinot character expressed in each of their exceptional coastal sites. They aim for elegant, harmonious wines with purity, balance, and lingering perfume.
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