“Maniacal.” That was the word that sprung to mind during a walk through Kistler Vineyards’ main farm and winemaking facility in Sebastopol last week.
Maniacal farming practices. Maniacal vinification protocols.
Winemaker Jason Kesner (above) chuckled in agreement when a wine blogger shared the thought with him. The vineyards he oversees are among the most (literally) manicured you’ll ever find — each bunch coddled to perfection, each cluster pampered until it realizes its full potential.
When we headed inside the winery proper, he showed me the temperature-controlled tanks used for fermenting the winery’s Pinot Noir.
After the grapes arrive during harvest, he told me, a 24-hour crew manually monitors temperatures in the vats in at least four places. Temperatures inside the vessel, he explained, vary from top to bottom. And while most winemakers, even the best ones, would perform a classic however quasi-robotic punching down of the must and skins, his team manages the cap in accordance with each tank’s particular and ever-changing thermal profile. No one’s sitting a home checking on the temperature of the vat with a smart phone app, hitting a button to warm or cool the tank, and then going back to sleep. No, at Kistler each tank is watched over with meticulous precision — exactness that echoes throughout the winemaking process.
Note how the barriques are perfectly aligned, Jason suggested when we visited one of the four Chardonnay fermentation rooms.
“It sets the tone for everything we do,” he told me.
The aesthetic touch may seem like affectation to some. But when it comes to the clarity of fruit and the elegance and balance of the wines, the taster realizes that Jason’s perjinkities are the product of the deep-reaching thoughtfulness and nuanced soul that he and the owners of this iconic estate summon to deliver these spectacular wines.
All of Kistler’s Chardonnay vineyards are planted to the “Wente” clone (as opposed to the Burgundian “Dijon” clones). The concept of the winery has never changed since its inception. The clone is always the same. The farming practices are uniform (and uniformly maniacal). The winemaking approach is unvaried. As a result, each bottling is reflection of the place — of the terroir — where those grapes are grown.
I’ve written before about how an inexperienced taster, clouded by peer pressure, didn’t have the palate or tasting chops to understand what makes these wines great.
Generous friends and colleagues have treated me to bottles of Kistler over the last two decades and I’ve come to appreciate, greatly, the compelling wines Jason and his team produce. When I visited last week, I wasn’t surprised to discover the ethos and ethic that make them a supreme expression of Californian viticulture.
Thank you, Jason, for one of the most extraordinary winery visits of my career. And thank you, Katie, for the fantastic tasting!
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