Steve Kistler, Winemaker
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.