Is there another winery in California that is been so successful without any marketing whatsoever, no public relations to speak of, no public tastings, no tasting room, absolutely nothing to suggest the owners have any interest in their consumer base? Probably the success has come through Robert Parker, Jr., who is one of the privileged few to be able to taste Kistler's wines and anoints them as royalty. That is not to say the wines are not worthy.
Kistler's Chardonnays set the standard for a style of California Chardonnay that is now commonplace in California. The Chardonnays go through 100% MLF, are barrel fermented and come out the other side very buttery and appealing, although their greatest attribute is as a sipping wine and not primarily a food-friendly wine. My wife and I adore the Chardonnays.
The Pinot Noirs early on were highly extracted and heavily oaked, appealing to Parker's palate, but off-putting to many others especially in light of the high prices that were demanded. The winemaking style for the Pinot Noirs has mellowed in recent years to the benefit of the wines. The wines are composed of both French Dijon and heritage clones. They undergo extended maceration and cuvaison up to four weeks, and are aged 14 months in 100% new French oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered.
The Pinot Noirs come from low-yielding vineyards in the Russian River Valley (Kistler Vineyard) and Sonoma Coast. Besides a Sonoma Coast blend produced for many years, in the late 2000s small production single vineyard Pinot Noirs appeared from three coastal vineyards including Silver Belt (Cuvée Natalie) , Occidental Station (Cuvée Catherine), and Bodega Headlands (Cuvée Elizabeth). The limited Pinot Noir production is variable in amount depending on vintage tonnage, but usually about 4,000 cases annually.
Not much is revealed publicly about the winery but production is probably around 25,000 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay annually. Nine different Chardonnays were offered in 2009.Almost all of the wine is sold through a mailing list with allocations based on years of customer loyalty and volume of customer purchases. The list is almost ruthless in that those who do not regularly buy in significant amounts soon suffer the consequences of scrawny allowances or banishment from the list. These are wines for only the well-to-do as they start at $70 a bottle and go up to $120. The minimum purchase from each twice-yearly offering is one case.
The winery was founded in 1978 and the first several years were rocky with some serious winemaking problems. Since then, success has come quickly and today all of the wine is quickly snapped up. The proprietors are Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler. Steve Kistler received a B.A. from Stanford University, studied at University California Davis and Fresno State University for two years, and was an assistant at Ridge Vineyards for two years before founding Kistler Vineyards. He serves as winemaker and oversees vineyard operations. Mark Bixler received degrees from M.I.T. and U.C. Berkeley, taught Chemistry at Fresno State University for seven years, and worked at Fetzer Vineyards for two years. Mark has shared winemaking responsibilities, and is the chemist and business manager for Kistler Vineyards. Bill Price, who also owns a portion of Durell Vineyard and the Three Sticks label, is a majority shareholder.
In July 2014, Jason Kesner was appointed the new winemaker. He was the vineyard manager at Hudson Vineyards where he caught the eye of Steve Kistler who sources fruit from Hudson Vineyards. In 2008, Kesner became the assistant winemaker at Kesner. Kesner has made his own wines in tiny quantities for years.
The grape sources include some of the finest vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties. After years of planning, a new winery was built at the Kistler's Vine Hill Vineyard in the Russian River Valley in 1992. The facility is state of the art, optimized for the production of limited quantities of the very highest quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Articles About Kistler Vineyards
California Chardonnay Tasting (7.25 9/5/2009)
Kistler Vineyards Pinot Noir Tasting (8.22 9/22/2010)
Olympics of Cult Pinot Collectibles (7.1 8/19/2008)
Pinot Briefs (10.3 1/22/2015)
Pinots from the Edge (6.57 4/7/2008)
Rekindling a Kistler Vineyards Romance (9.19 2/3/2013)
Sips of Recently Tasted California Pinot Noir (9.50 11/21/2014)
Three Amigos Matched Up (6.1 10/15/2006)
Three Sticks Durell Vineyard (8.45 11/1/2011)
Wine Spectator Smackdown (8.9 1/22/2010)
2010 Kistler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $N/A. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. The nose features aromas of blackberry jam, black currant and black plum with a toasty, smoky oak overlay. Plenty of weight and sappy presence of purple and black berries on the palate backed by firm, dry tannins. An undertow of oak shows up on the finish that offers some intensity and length. More swagger than finesse. Score: 87. Reviewed November 19, 2014 ARTICLE »
2010 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 2,135 cases, $80. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of black cherries, spice, and subtle mint. Very soft and smooth in the mouth with charming flavors of Bing cherries and cranberries underlain with spice and cola. Juicy, with bright acidity on the back end. The velvety texture is most alluring. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the minty note on the nose had disappeared, the aromas were very pleasant and the wine was still flavorful. Very good. Reviewed February 4, 2013 ARTICLE »
2010 Kistler Cuvée Natalie Silver Belt Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 915 cases, $90. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is closed for business showing primarily oak-driven aromas. Mid-weight core of dark red and black fruits that are flavorful and bright, but less intense and sappy than the 2009 wines. The tannins are nicely balanced and the finish is driven with notable citrus-laden energy. Tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine’s nose was still closed with a hint of dark red fruit and oak spice. Still very flavorful with plentiful, sappy fruit, smooth texture and some length on the fruited finish. Very good. Reviewed February 4, 2013 ARTICLE »
2009 Kistler Cuvée Catherine Occidental Station Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 535 cases, $90. · Dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Very shy nose initially, offering scents of dark berries and cherries and spice, picking up intensity over time in the glass. Well-endowed with ornate flavors of plum sauce and blackberry jam robed in firm but not aggressive tannin, finishing with welcome Pinot charm. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the nose was still shy with a leafy, floral tone, yet the flavors were remarkably enticing with impressive length on the finish. Very good. Reviewed February 4, 2013 ARTICLE »
2009 Kistler Cuvée Elizabeth Bodega Headlands Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 780 cases, $90. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose evolves slowly but beautifully in the glass, offering an array of scents including dark berry preserves, black plums, oak spice and a floral highlight. Richly flavored with slightly sweet and sappy dark fruits enhanced with subtle notes of vanilla, tar and fennel. Very silky in the mouth with admirable length on the luscious, fruit-driven finish. The next day when tasted from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the nose had a green note yet the plush fruit flavor was hard to ignore. This wine will find fans among those who relish big-boy Pinots. Good (+). Reviewed February 4, 2013 ARTICLE »
2006 Kistler Occidental Station Vineyard Cuvée Catherine Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 528 cases, $90. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Demure black fruits on the nose with a prominent earthy, forest floor scent. Alcohol peaks out over time in the glass. Delicious dark berry fruit core that is vivid and juicy and persists on the pleasing finish. A big wine but not as chiseled or muscular as previous vintages. Moderate tannins and a smooth mouth feel. Drank nicely the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. The best wine in this vertical tasting. Very good (+). Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2006 Kistler Silver Bolt Vineyard Cuvée Natalie Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,000 cases, $90. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Smoky, earthy and grassy on the nose. Discreetly rich dark berry fruits with a citric note on the finish. The most striking feature of this wine is the velvety mouth feel. The flavors trump the nose at this stage. POP 90, WS 88. Reviewed January 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2005 Kistler Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.1% alc., 1,930 cases, $70. · Deep yellow with a hint of orange. Aromas of poached apple, herbal oak and oak char. Tasty cooked white fruits with butter and oak highlights. Charred oak runs throughout in the background. I prefer Kistler Chardonnays when they are young. Reviewed September 5, 2009 ARTICLE »
2005 Kistler Occidental Station Vineyard Cuvée Catherine Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,032 cases, $90. · A very alluring nose of black raspberries and spice box. Delicious dark red fruit core that is rich and full-bodied. The tannins and acidity are reigned in and this charming wine has impressive harmony. Very good (+). Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2005 Kistler Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 274 cases, $120. · The nose is brooding with little fruit, offering mainly aromas of oak char and smoke. A prodigious and muscled super-sized Pinot Noir that is Syrah-like. There is very little charm to be found here in the dense dark fruit and substantial tannins. A husky wine that needs a good fatty steak. Decent. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2004 Kistler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,328 cases, $60. · Deep purple color. Lovely perfume of black cherries, lavender and damp oak. The flavors are driven by firm, dark fruits accentuated with Asian spice, and dark chocolate. Nicely weighted and oaked, complex and interesting. Appealing soft texture in the mouth, and lively acidity on the ending which is moderately long. Reviewed April 7, 2008 ARTICLE »
2004 Kistler Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,024 cases, $90. · Aromas of dark berry jam, oak spice and baked bread. Big and tannic with a profuse array of blackberry, plum sauce and black currant flavors. The fruit flavors are buried in the massive structure. This will always be a tannic wine. Rather uninteresting. Decent. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2004 Kistler Cuvee Catherine Occidental Station Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,000 cases, $90. · This seemed to be an off bottle and clearly the least appealing wine in the lineup. The fruit was muted on the nose and in the mouth. No TCA was detectable by the group. Aromas of green beans and faint berries led to simple dark red fruit flavors, primarily black raspberry, with lively acidity on the finish. Decent tasting but not of “cult” caliber. Reviewed August 19, 2008 ARTICLE »
2004 Kistler Occidental Station Vineyard Cuvée Catherine Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,032 cases, $90. · The nose never delivers much fruit, offering primarily scents of biscuit, oak spice, damp earth and a green note. The fruit trends to the overripe side with raisiny flavors. The pure intensity of the fruit lingers on the finish which has a bright citrus tang. Decent. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2003 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 1,790 cases, $75. · Dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Complex aromatic profile of Bing cherries, dark berry jam, herbal oak, cut flowers and Moroccan spice. A plethora of tasty, sweet dark Pinot fruits including sassafras with a hint of tar and cola. Thick, almost viscous with moderate tannins and a tangy finish bright with cherries and citrus. A big wine that will please hedonists. Good. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2003 Kistler Cuvée Catherine Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 516 cases, $90. · There are some very attractive red and black cherry aromas which are slightly roasted. Thick and concentrated flavors of cherry cola and black currants with an undertone of smoky oak. Moderate dry tannins persist long with a refreshing grip of acidity on the bright and citrusy finish. Good. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2002 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
$75, 1790 cases. Aged 14 months in 100% new oak. Winemakers are Mark Bixler and Steve Kistler. Www.kistlerwine.com. · Beautiful aromatics featuring raspberries and floral notes. The flavors never deliver much punch and the finish is shallow and oaky. Among our group of 20, I could not find one person who really liked this wine. As much as I like Kistler Chardonnay, I have never been a fan of the Kistler style of Pinot Noir. Reviewed October 15, 2006 ARTICLE »
2001 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Cuvée Catherine Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 258 cases, $80. · Aromas of exotic woods, spiced fruits and oak. Charming berry and stone fruits with hints of spice and toasted brioche. Flamboyant tannins but vivid and crisp with an appealing tartness due to lively acidity that highlights the fruit. Very good. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2000 Kistler Occidental Vineyard Cuvée Eilzabeth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 278 cases, $90. · Very dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Initially, there are some nice dark fruit and exotic fruit aromas but these fade quickly leaving a perfume of herbal oak and green garden. On the palate, the fruit fades quickly, leaving a core of dry, slightly viscous uninteresting fruit with moderate supporting tannins. Decent. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
1999 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 942 cases, $70. · Very dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A fruity nose featuring aromas of blackberries and black cherries with notes of anise, tar and oak. Intense and rich flavors of black plum and cassis with hints of tea, tar and smoke. Drinks like a Syrah. A linear, fruit-driven wine with significant oak tannins. Decent. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
1999 Kistler Occidental Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 168 cases, $85 · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A savory nose plush with earthy loam and oak with a hint of floral perfume. Bigboned and fruity with moderate sinewy tannins. The blackberry and cassis fruit is linear and a bit flat. Soft and smooth in texture. Good. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
1998 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Cuvée Catherine Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 285 cases, $65. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of spiced dark berries, roasted nuts and a hint of prune. Intense purple fruits on the palate with undertones of cassis and marzipan. Relatively thick and concentrated with significant dry tannins and bright acidity. Good. Reviewed September 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
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