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Walter Hansel Winery & Vineyard

A reader alerted me to this producer in the Russian River Valley. I had not come across the winery’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for some time because the winery does not participate in any of the showcase Pinot Noir events in California and Oregon (I love the quote from The Winehound about Walter Hansel, “Under the radar but never over the top.”). I had last tasted the 2003 vintage and found the Pinot Noirs rather austere in style. I felt it was time to revisit the wines with the highly touted 2007 vintage and I was very pleased that I did.

Walter Hansel Winery & Vineyard has achieved a low-key but dedicated following for Burgundian-styled Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley. 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 winery’s first commercial vintage that year, releasing just 350 cases of Chardonnay and 70 cases of Pinot Noir. Additional vineyards and a new winemaking facility were added to 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 advised him in his early years of winemaking when he worked out of a garage. Today, the winery farms 75+ 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 five Chardonnay clones with the oldest vines over 25 years old. The clones are planted in various vineyard blocks, and the resultant wines have subtle differences resulting from the interaction of soils and clones. The vineyard designated wines are clonal specific and the estate wines (non-vineyard designated) are a blend of many clones from a variety of vineyard locations. Walter Hansel Winery also farms 4 acres of a neighbor’s Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.

All the wines are estate grown. The vineyard-designate wines are produced in quantities of 100 to 750 cases and the estate wines approximately 1,200 cases. Prices are reasonable considering the quality. All the Pinot Noirs produced vary to some degree in flavor, density, and acidity, but I found the winemaking impeccable in the 2007 wines. Every wine I tasted was singing in harmony. A savory vein runs through all the wines which are quite drinkable now. These are not opulent-styled Pinot Noirs meant for sipping, but rather sit-down, table wines meant for food. About 5,000 cases of Pinot Noir, 5,500 cases of Chardonnay and 1,500 cases of Sauvignon Blanc are produced annually.

The Walter Hansel wines are available through an online order form that can be faxed to the winery. The wines are distributed to fine retail stores and restaurants in California. Winery tours and tastings are available by appointment (contact Stephen at 707-525-3614).

2007 Walter Hansel Hansel Family Vineyards Cahill Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $36. · Patience is required and rewarded with the emergence of a rich dark red cherry and berry core on the nose and palate. The flavors have a slight confected tone and a hint of smoky oak lurks in the background. Soft tannins create a silky mouth feel and the dry finish is pleasingly fruity. Very good.

2007 Walter Hansel Hansel Family Vineyards Cuvèe Alyce Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $36. · The enticing nose offers a cherries jubilee with a hint of seasoned oak. Delicious essence of dark red and black cherries and raspberries with savory herbs adding interest. Perfectly composed with gossamer tannins, vivid fruit, and balancing acidity. This is the one I want to dance with.

2007 Walter Hansel Hansel Family Vineyards The North Slope Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.3% alc., $36. · Straw yellow color in the glass. Aromas of lemon curd, roasted nuts and a hint of toasted oak. Crisp and bright with layered flavors of white peaches, lemon zest, brown butter and a healthy dose of dusty oak. Slightly creamy in texture with a bright tug of acidity on the finish. Very good.

2007 Walter Hansel Hansel Family Vineyards The South Slope Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $36. 100% clone 115. · This wine is showing plenty of oak toast and smoke on the nose. The dark berry core is tasty, with underpinnings of smoky oak and a hint of root beer, and the wine is balanced, but the oak overwhelms the experience. Decent.

2007 Walter Hansel Hansel Family Vineyards The Three Rows Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $45. · Complex aromatic profile which develops nicely in the glass revealing scents of strawberry jam, Bing cherries, and cut flowers. Medium-weighted red cherry and berry core with notes of red currants, exotic tea, and savory herbs. A wine that aims to please with elegance and charm. Very good.

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