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Pinot Noir - California vs. Oregon - Episode 2
updated: Oct 06, 2012, 11:00 AM
By Marc Liberts
Because Pinot Noir is so popular, the BYOB Wine & Dine series at Max's Restaurant & Cucina in Santa
Barbara held two Pinot Noir dinners. The first occurred on September 23, 2012, and the second took
place on Sunday September 30, 2012. The second event featured winemaker Dan Kessler from Kessler-
Haak Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. As always, the BYOB sharing component of the event was paired with
assorted gourmet cheeses from C'est Cheese and Dan Kessler shared his KESSLER-HAAK, 2011 Rosé of
Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills to enjoy with the cheeses.
The first course of the dinner was Grilled Figs & Pancetta over Arugula Salad with Ginger-Pomegranate
Vinaigrette. The first course was paired with the KESSLER-HAAK VINEYARD, Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills,
Clone 2A, 2009. The main course was Fennel-Scented Duck in Sour Cherry & Sage Reduction over
Roasted Shallot & Truffle Smashed Potatoes, with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms & Haricots Verts and was
paired with the KESSLER-HAAK VINEYARD, Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills, 2009. And the final course was
Mixed Berry Tart with Cinnamon-Clove Zabaglione. I thought the Duck and Truffle Smashed Potatoes
were particularly good and paired nicely with the Kessler-Haak Pinot Noir that Dan Kessler shared with
This event was particularly successful because many of the participants brought excellent examples of
both Oregon and California Pinot Noir wines. In addition, the Kessler-Haak wines showed extremely well
and paired nicely with the food.
I was particularly impressed with the Kessler-Haak wines. Dan's Kessler-Haak wines show a precision
that is rare to find in such a new winery. It is obvious that the Kessler-Haak wines are made with great
care, and it is also obvious that Kessler-Haak's farming techniques and discipline are paying off. The
Kessler-Haak wines that we tried at this event, the Pinot Noirs in particular, were excellent examples of
Pinot Noir that represents the Sta. Rita Hills, and really ‘speaks to place' and exhibits excellent terroir-
driven characteristics. If you bring a Kessler-Haak Pinot Noir to Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner this
year you will impress your guests and companions. By the way, I'm not a Rosé fan, and I've been hard
on Rosé in the past. However, I am pleased to report that I really liked the Kessler-Haak Rosé that Dan
brought for us to enjoy!
Dan Kessler was born in Lansing, Michigan and graduated from MIT in 1981. He spent the early part of
his career developing state of the art semiconductor fabrication technologies for Hewlett-Packard in
Fort Collins, Colorado. Kessler later moved to California where he joined Vitesse, a small high tech
startup company, developing and manufacturing semiconductor technology for the supercomputer and
telecommunications industries. For Dan, enjoying wine led to learning about wine; which led to learning
about winemaking; which led to making wine as a home winemaker; which led to planting a small 200
vine vineyard in his backyard; which led to obtaining a Winemaker's Certificate from the UC Davis
Distance Learning program; which led to falling in love with Sta. Rita Hills; which led to buying a 40 acre
parcel and planting a 30 acre vineyard; which led to where he is today - actively involved in every aspect
of growing and making wine.
I had the chance to interview Dan Kessler prior to the event, and below are the questions and answers.
What are your impressions of Oregon Pinot Noir generally, and how do you think they compare generally
to California Pinot Noir? Is there a region in California that produces Pinot Noir similar to Oregon in your
ANSWER: One big difference between CA and Oregon Pinot Noir are the clonal blend in the wines.
Oregon Pinot Noir tends to be built with Pommard, 2A (Wädenswil), 114, 115, 777. CA Pinot Noir tends
to be built with 115, 667, 777. The flavor profile of single clone and blends from each region will be
different. In my opinion, CA Pinot Noir does not have the vagaries of fall rains and stronger year to year
seasonal variation. Thus, CA Pinot Noir tends to be more consistent vintage to vintage, while Oregon
Pinot Noir has good years and not so good years. I am still learning about Oregon Pinot Noir. Overall, I
have found the wines to be lighter in color and body than CA Pinot Noir, less fruitful and for me, less
interesting. I would say they are more like Burgundy than CA but without the finesse and beauty that
makes Burgundy Pinot Noir what it is. In my opinion, there is not a region in CA that produces Pinot Noir
similar to OR.
Most wine enthusiasts would agree that aged wines can be far superior to young wines, and most wine
enthusiasts also bemoan the fact that the average consumer is going to open the wine he buys within
hours or days of purchase. What is your opinion on this, and would you encourage consumers to drink
your wine immediately, or wait and try and cellar it? If you suggest cellaring, what benefits can the
ANSWER: Not all wines get better with age. I think outside of the Old World, a large percentage of New
World wines are targeted for consumers who want to drink now. These wines should be drunk in 0 - 3
years after release. Often, I find they are geared towards the American palate of high levels of fruit and
barrel components, higher levels of alcohol and higher pH (lower acidity). This style tends to produce an
aromatically pretty wine with fruity/jammy flavors and a heavier/more lush mouth feel. It works well
without food and, due to the lower levels of acid, not as well with food. With Pinot Noir in the US, you
often find producers releasing their Pinots one year after harvest. Often (but not always - Loring wines
for example), these wines are too young to be drunk upon release without a lot of decanting (I was
recently told by one gentleman that he regularly puts his young wines in a blender and then decants
them back into the bottle to open them up and improve their drinkability...). Kessler-Haak wines,
because of our vineyard's cold microclimate generally have a pretty decent acid backbone. We hold them
2 years before release instead of one to allow that backbone to soften some and allow the wines to be
more approachable. The higher acid levels of our wines when they are drunk young make them
excellent companions with food (sometimes with a little decanting), and perhaps less approachable
alone. Long story short, I would encourage consumers to enjoy our wines with food if they will be drunk
young and to cellar them for a couple of years if they would like to be rewarded with a more
sophisticated wine that can be drunk with or without food. As for cellaring in general.... We have only
released 2 vintages from our vineyard (2008 was the first). Our '08 Pinot had a very strong acid
backbone upon release (2010) which gave the wine a certain amount of angularity and a "components"
feel. Two years after release the acid is slowly integrating with the tannins and alcohol levels and the
wine's balance has improved. The initial high level of acidity in the wine has helped keep its flavors and
aromas youthful and fresh. I expect with a couple more years of aging, we will see a very sophisticated
Burundian type of character from this vintage. In general, I expect 2 - 5 years of aging (after release) for
our wines will reward one with a wine with less angularity and better integration, more open aromatics
and flavors, and softer, more integrated tannins.
In the past, I've always loved Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills AVA. Can you share your thoughts
about the Santa Rita Hills AVA and what makes it distinctive as it relates to Pinot Noir?
Pinot Noir from Sta Rita Hills, in my opinion, is distinctive in three ways: intense color, great acidity and
a spicy character. These characteristics are attributable to the region: cool climate, generally poor soils,
generally windy conditions. The result is a long growing season resulting is physically ripe flavors at
higher levels of acidity and lower levels of sugar. Berries and clusters tend to be smaller which results in
higher skin to juice ratios. Since flavors and color all come from the skins, these components are more
concentrated in this region's wines. Spice in our fruit is generally a result of cool climate growing
In the recent past, I've also been enjoying Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley AVA. Can you share
your thoughts about the SMV ava and what makes it distinctive as it relates to Pinot Noir?
ANSWER: I can usually distinguish Santa Maria AVA wines from SRH AVA wines. For me,
SM wines are lower in acid and more drinkable upon release. SM climate is a key reason for this. The
area is generally warmer than SRH.
Thinking of French Pinot Noir, which are your favorite(s), and what impresses
you about them?
ANSWER: I am probably not the best person to ask that question. I've only met a couple of French
Pinot's I didn't care for. I think that was mainly due to their lower price point/quality level. I am in
general a big fan of Old World wines, especially with food. What impresses me most about them is their
structure, balance and precision.
What wines will you be bringing to the event? Please provide a brief commentary on each one.
ANSWER: I will be bringing our 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2009 estate Pinot Noir and our
2009 estate clone 2A Pinot Noir. Here's my (impressions) for each:
2011 Kessler-Haak Rosé of Pinot Noir - Estate grown fruit. Dry, with crisp acidity and notes of
strawberry, sour cherry, raspberry and mineral flavors, this full-bodied Rosé makes a worthy companion
to smoked meats, a hearty BLT, grilled burgers and even tuna tartar.
2009 Kessler-Haak Pinot Noir - Estate grown fruit, made in a style of dry elegance. This young, lovely
full bodied Pinot Noir shows rich cherry, pomegranate, cola and mineral flavors with
firm tannins. Try it with venison and sour cherry reduction, sautéed mushrooms of any type or herb
roasted prime rib. Give it a short decant and enjoy it now or let it mellow in your cellar for a year or so.
2009 Kessler-Haak Pinot Noir, Clone 2A - Estate grown fruit. A lovely, delicate Pinot Noir with vibrant
acidity that cuts across the palate and into the finish. Bone dry, with subtle flavors of cranberry, sour
cherry and cool climate spiciness. A great wine to enjoy with food and a worthy match with such
partners as: oven roasted vegetables, braised short ribs and herb roasted meats.
What first comes to mind for you when you think about Santa Barbara County wine-making and
ANSWER: SBC is a newer and rapidly growing wine region with unique climatic and soil characteristics.
Vineyards are young as are many of the winemakers. One feels the high energy levels between growers
and winemakers here as well as a more friendly/collaborative/experimental environment to nurture
growth and the overall quality of wines from this region. Ellen and I are thrilled to be a part of it!
WINES TASTED DURING THE EVENING:
1. LACHINI VINEYARDS, Chehalem Mountain, Pinot Noir, 2009 - earthy nose with evergreen pine forest
notes on the palate with pretty raspberries - 91 points.
2. ELK COVE VINEYARDS, 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir - plump and earthy with delicate raspberry
fruit notes - 90 points.
3. FESS PARKER, Santa Barbara County 2009 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard - deep dark blackberries
and overt fruit - a little clumsy - 87 points.
4. WILD HORSE, Pinot Noir, Central Coast 2009 - Light but plump with loads of ripe cherry notes on the
palate - slightly unbalanced - 88 points.
5. ARGLYE, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2010 - earthy with pretty red fruit and nice fresh forest herbs.
Well balanced - 89 points.
6. KESSLER-HAAK, 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills - great hue with pretty and creamy cherry cola
notes. Makes a nice statement - 91 points.
7. CHATTER, 2010 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley - a plump and fat wine featuring big ripe bing cherries.
Fun - 87 points.
8. MONTINORE ESTATE, Willamette Valley, Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 - overtly earthy and out of
balance. Slightly off somehow - 84 points.
9. ANNE AMIE, Yamhill Springs Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir, 2002 - a pretty wine that is
probably too old. Soft - 87 points.
10. LANGE, Pinot Noir, 2009 Willamette Valley, Three Hills Cuveé - appealing raspberry and strawberry
notes with nice loamy notes. Pleasant balance - 90 points.
11. KING ESTATE, 2010 Oregon Pinot Noir - light with soft fruit and some herbal notes. Good balance
but light - 86 points.
12. WBW WALTZING BEAR WINES, Cargasacchi Jalama Vineyard, Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, 2005 -
a strange wine with big acid, taut fruit, and vanilla. Funky - 90 points.
13. MELVILLE, 2009 Pinot Noir, Estate, Sta. Rita Hills - nice cola and bing cherries on the palate, but a
little strange. Something not quite right - 87 points.
14. CRIMSON CELLARS, 2008 Pinot Noir, Jalama Vineyard - surprisingly woody and herbal with nice fruit
and good balance. A pleasant surprise - 88 points.
15. DONOVAN-PARKE, Pinot Noir, California, 2010 - funky and out of balance with light fruit. Not
recommended- 78 points.
16. BEARBOAT, Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley - funky and musty with decent fruit and an
interesting caramel note. Not a winner - 84 points.
17. MICHAEL POZZAN, 2010 Russian River Pinot Noir - decent balance with pleasing fruit and decent
herbal notes. Not bad - 86 points.
18. KENDALL-JACKSON, Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir, 2010, California - out of balance but fruity. So-so
- 85 points.
19. LA CREMA, Sonoma Coast 2010 Pinot Noir - decent cherry cola and ripe fruit with some balance.
Above average - 86 points.
20. MARK WEST, Pinot Noir, California 2010 - stinky nose with light fruit and little weight. Not
recommended at all - 72 points.
21. RANCH 32, Pinot Noir, Monterrey 2010 - sulfery and unpleasant from start to finish. Avoid this one
- 73 points.
22. 75th ANNIVERSARY TREK, Pinot Noir 2003, Edna Valley - a coy wine that takes a minute to ramp up
with even fruit and decent balance. Interesting - 88 points.
23. WILD HORSE, Pinot Noir, Central Coast 2008 - plump with prunes and ripe dried fruit. Big and fruity
- 86 points.
24. RANCHO SISQUOC, Flood Family Vineyards, 2010 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir - light and
pleasant with decent balance. No vices - 83 points.
25. AUGUST BRIGGS, 1997 Napa Valley Pinot Noir, ‘Dijon Clones' - smelly and funky and just not
enjoyable. Too old - 79 points.
26. CHARACTER, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2009, Amber Ridge Vineyard - nice fruit with good
balance and poise. A good character - 89 points.
27. REATA, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2010 - bacon on the nose with strong fruit and acid and decent
balance overall. Something to try - 89 points.
28. RIVERS-MARIE, Summa Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, 2008 Pinot Noir - explosive and sparkly on the
palate with bright, tightly wound fruit components and tight acid. A wow wine - 94 points.
29. KESSLER-HAAK VINEYARD, Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills, Clone 2A, 2009 - tightly wound with intense
fruit, spices, balance, and great integration. A very smart spicy wine - 93 points.
30. ARCHERY SUMMIT, 2002 Pinot Noir, Red Hills Estate, Dundee Hills - beautiful older wine with great
earth, pretty fruit, and impressive balance. Impressive - 92 points.
31. SEA SMOKE, 2009 Pinot Noir, Southing, Sta. Rita Hills - pretty color with nice red fruit and big acid
with a hint of spice. Substantial - 91 points.
32. KESSLER-HAAK VINEYARD, Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills, 2009 - cherry cola with nice balance and bold
acid. Classic SRH - 92 points.
33. DOMAINE SERENE, 2000 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Evenstad Reserve - pretty forest and
evergreen notes with sultry raspberries. Great balance - 92 points.
BEST WINE OF THE NIGHT: RIVERS-MARIE, Summa Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, 2008 Pinot Noir - 94 points.
2nd BEST WINE OF THE NIGHT: KESSLER-HAAK VINEYARD, Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills, Clone 2A, 2009 - 93
3rd BEST WINE OF THE NIGHT: DOMAINE SERENE, 2000 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Evenstad Reserve -
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