Occidental Pinot Noir, Freestone-Occidental – sustainable with some organic practices
Occidental is the highly-lauded side project of famed winemaker Steve Kistler and his business partner, Mark Bixler. Steve is most well-known for his eponymous label, Kistler Vineyards, which has been dedicated to making world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from California’s north coast for over 30 years
While Steve remains CEO of Kistler Vineyards and is very much in charge of day-to-day operations, his desire to focus solely on Pinot Noir was the impetus behind creating Occidental.
Occidental built a state-of-the-art production facility just east of the town of Bodega on a ridge top next to the Bodega Headlands Vineyard overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Peak capacity is planned to be 7500 cases. The new winery was completed in August of 2013. Much of the acreage is planted to Calera clone Pinot Noir.
The vineyards benefit from an ideal south-facing aspect (not shared by neighboring sites), as well as the Petaluma Gap’s cold, windy climate. In fact, the area rarely sees temperatures over 80 degrees. In short, it is a wonderland for Pinot Noir. Steve’s approach to winemaking starts with meticulous work in the vineyards and continues with great attention to detail in the winery.
Previously ‘Sonoma Coast’, this wine now carries the name Freestone-Occidental to more accurately reflect its place of origin. The fruit in this Pinot Noir is from the Bodega Headlands, Occidental Station, and Bodega Ridge vineyards. All fruit is harvested at night and arrives cool at the winery the next morning where it is carefully sorted twice. Each vineyard block is fermented separately in two to four-ton increments in order to capture as much individual site character as possible.
The resulting wine is an alluring combination of silky, cherry-laden fruit and a persistent, charged finish. Similar to his philosophy at Kistler Vineyards, Steve embraces a “less is more” approach to viticulture and winemaking at Occidental. He achieves this with continuous crop-thinning and pruning in the vineyard followed by meticulous hand-picking and sorting of the grapes.
After a five-day cold soak of the grapes, native yeast fermentation in three-ton open-top stainless steel fermenters is accompanied by manual punch-downs two to three times per day. The wine undergoes spontaneous malolactic fermentation and is aged in François Frères oak barrels (60% new) for approximately 14 months. The finished wine is never pressed, only drained by gravity. Finally, the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Aromatically the wine is red-fruit forward, with notes of brambly, barely ripe raspberries as well as damp earth and a hint of fresh herbs. On the palate, the wine is full of finesse with a combination of red and blue fruits, as well as a minerally finish.
Winery notes: The 2020 Freestone-Occidental wine shares the same winemaking techniques as Occidental’s vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs. Crystalline, bright, mouthwatering, and a bit salty with a saline mineral finish, the 2020 Freestone-Occidental evokes juicy red berries and a near-perfect balance of finesse and energy – of bright, primary red fruits and saline elements. It conveys outstanding precision and lift in the mouth and finishes vibrant and long with beautifully sculpted tannins. Its modest alcohol (13.3%) makes this wine a perfect complement to any meal. It is delicious now and will develop nicely in bottle.