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Walter Hansel Pinot Noir

Walter Hansel Winery and Hansel Family Vineyards in the Russian River Valley has become wellknown for unique Burgundian-styled Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Walter Hansel was a lifelong wine lover who first planted vineyards in 1978 just down the road from Kistler and Dehlinger. Stephen Hansel, Walter’s son, planted additional acres in the late 1980s, founded the winery in 1996, and made the first commercial vintage, 1996, which produced just 350 cases of Chardonnay and 70 cases of Pinot Noir. New vineyards and a new wine making facility were added at the family’s estate in 1999. Stephen Hansel owns several automobile dealerships in Sonoma County, which allows him to indulge his passion for winegrowing.

Stephen Hansel’s mentor was Tom Rochioli, who helped him in the early years of his winemaking efforts which began out of a garage. Today Walter Hansel Winery farms about 80 acres located at the southern tip of the Russian River Valley near the Sebastopol Hills. The estate vineyard is planted to five different French and California Pinot Noir clones (and four Chardonnay clones) which are from 3 to 23 years old. The clones are planted in various vineyard blocks, and although the land has three distinctive soils, the flavor variations of the wines are derived primarily from different clones. The vineyard designated wines are clonal specific. Yields are kept low (1.5-2.7 tons per acre). All of the fruit is hand-harvested in the early morning hours and carefully sorted. 100% of the fruit is destemmed and after a cold maceration of 5-7 days, is fermented with natural yeasts in open-top ferment tanks. Cooperage varies from year-to-year, cuvee-to-cuvee, and a mix of new, one- and two-year old barrels are utilized.

The vineyard-designate wines are produced in quantities of 100-750 cases and the estate wines 1200 cases. Prices are remarkably low considering the quality, ranging from $27-$40. In 2003 there were five vineyard-designates (The South Slope, The North Slope, Cuvee Alyce, Cahill Lane, and Hirsch Block 6), and one estate Russian River Valley bottling. The 2004 vintage has just been released. All of the Pinot Noirs produced vary to some degree in flavor, density, and acidity, but in general, the style is notably more lean and austere than many California Pinot Noirs. In fact, I know of only a few other wineries in California that are similarly styled. Lovers of opulent-styled Pinot Noirs may be disappointed. These are not stand-up social wines, but rather sit-down, table wines meant for food.

2003 Walter Hansel Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $27. · This Pinot Noir has a distinctive old-style Burgundian rusticity. There is a nice core of cherry and earth notes which take on structure with exposure to air. The fruit is restrained and the wine finishes with plenty of acid and a touch of astringency.

2003 Walter Hansel The North Slope Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $29. · Similar in style to the above wine. The aromatics are attractive, offering toasty cherries and Asian spices. The wine is austere on the palate, featuring more herbal and earthy notes than fruit. The wine finishes with brisk acidity and noticeable oak.

Walter Hansel Winery mailing address is P.O. Box 3437, Santa Rosa, CA 95402. Tasting can be arranged by appointment. Stephen Hansel welcomes phone calls to discuss the wines before ordering. The phone number is 707-525-3614 and the website is The Chardonnays are similarly Burgundian in style and highly-awarded.

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