I started to develop a passion for the wines from coastal vineyards during my time at Ridge.
During my first harvest in 1975, one of my jobs was to drive the Ridge flatbed truck to a small zinfandel vineyard located on Harrison Grade, just west of Sebastopol, to pick up the bins of zinfandel that had been picked early that morning. Ridge had named this site “Occidental Vineyard” because it was Ridge’s most coastal site. Occidental was arguably Ridge’s most prized zinfandel vineyard and quite distinct from their zinfandels from Geyserville and Lytton Springs, which were grown in warmer conditions farther inland. Working at Ridge for over two years, I developed a distinct preference for the coastal character of the Occidental Vineyard zinfandel when compared to the other zinfandels in the cellar.
In the mid-1970s when I began my career at Ridge, there was very little pinot noir planted along the western reaches of the Sonoma Coast, and in particular on Taylor and Fitzpatrick Lanes. Then in 1992, I tasted a pinot noir that truly caught my attention – a Summa Vineyard pinot noir, from one of the first pinot noir vineyards planted on Taylor Lane. It had vivid aromatics, a bright natural acidity, and a more pronounced “cool climate character” than the Russian River Valley pinot noirs I had been tasting. After tasting this wine, I was more convinced than ever that many of California’s most compelling pinot noirs would come from these maritime sites in the future. And so soon thereafter, I began looking to purchase potential vineyard land on any one of the coastal ridges near Taylor Lane.
Since that time, Occidental has played a leading role in planting new pinot noir vineyards in the Freestone-Occidental area, pushing the boundary westward all the way to the coast. Today there are many small plantings of pinot noir on Taylor and Fitzpatrick Lanes, on the ridges surrounding Freestone Valley, and on the ridge where Occidental planted its pinot noir vineyards and built its winery.
Occidental: A Brief History
I began producing a series of pinot noirs from the Flowers vineyards on Camp Meeting Ridge and the Hirsch Vineyard, both in the Ft. Ross-Seaview area. I was eager to compare these two coastal pinot noirs to those I was making at Kistler Vineyards from some of the best sites in the Russian River Valley.
Together with Warren Dutton, I planted a four-acre pinot vineyard on Taylor Lane directly across the street from the Summa Vineyard. I named it “Occidental Vineyard” because it overlooked the Pacific and reminded me of my time at Ridge.
I had the rare opportunity to taste the coastal pinot noirs I was making from the Flowers and Hirsch vineyards alongside the first pinots produced from the Occidental Vineyard on Taylor Lane, as well as the Littorai pinots from the Thierot Vineyard next door. These comparative tastings were invaluable in guiding the direction that Occidental’s future vineyard development would later take.
I purchased the 100-acre Bodega Headlands property. Twenty acres of pinot noir were planted in 2001.
I purchased the 250-acre property next to Bodega Ridge, on the same ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
I founded Occidental, the new Kistler family winery, dedicated to the production of world-class pinot noir from the Freestone-Occidental area.
Beginning this year, we planted 65 additional acres of pinot noir and built a small winery that was completed in time for the 2013 harvest.
Today, Occidental farms 85 acres of pinot noir vineyards in the Freestone-Occidental area. The vineyards are farmed with great skill and commitment by many of the same men and women who have worked alongside me at Kistler Vineyards. The Occidental wines are produced by my original cellar crew, many of whom have worked with me for over thirty years.
For the past sixteen years, my family and I have lived in a home we built in the redwoods at the top of the Bodega Headlands property.