San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival Winemaker Kessler HaakDan & Ellen


Vineyard planted: 2005. First harvest: 2008
Winery established: 2009. First vintage: 2008
Focus: Estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines; wines produced from Sta. Rita Hills AVA fruit.

Life is about the journey. For us, that journey involves wine and its incredible ability as a medium to capture the essence of its origin - the vineyard. On this journey, we strive to express through our fruit the uniqueness and beauty of place and through our wines to capture, for a moment, all that was in a year.

Kessler-Haak vineyard is located on Highway 246, 11 miles west of Buellton,CA, in the cooler northwestern section of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Fog graces the vineyard most mornings; followed by cool Pacific Ocean breezes and bright sunny afternoons. These conditions nurture gentle ripening of our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at lower sugars with crisp acidity and the higher levels of spice commonly seen in cool climate viticulture.

As our vineyard has matured, it has become clear to us we are in one of the colder microclimates in our AVA. Frost hasbeen a frequent visitor in the spring (at just the wrong time!) and occasionally in the fall before harvest and poses a never ending challenge.

Planted in 2005, soils in the vineyard vary from sandy to sandy loam with patches of clay loam. Seven Pinot Noir clones on three different rootstocks are planted amongst 27 acres of the vineyard's rolling hillsides. A 2.5 acre east-facing hillside was reserved for our 3 clones of Chardonnay, planted on low vigor 110R rootstock to showcase the exceptional character of cool climate Chardonnay.

Although we are not a certified organic vineyard, vineyard practices are strictly organic. We believe soil health is a primary essence of “terroir.” By soil health, we mean an environment supporting the growth and health of the many microorganisms existing there. These organisms and their by-products live synergistically with the grape vine. Each contributes to the health of the other. We believe a healthy, correctly balanced soil will produce a healthy vine requiring minimal external support (supplements, fungicides, etc.) from the vigneron and will best express the unique essence of our site. Consequently, we use no pesticides or herbicides and only organic fertilizers. Weed control is done mechanically. Pest control is done through natural predators (hawks, owls, badgers and coyotes) and trapping.

Winegrower/Winemaker - Dan Kessler was born in Lansing, Michigan and graduated with a BSEE/MSEE degree 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, CO. In search of warmer weather, Dan made his move to sunny California where he joined Vitesse, a small high tech startup company, developing and manufacturing semiconductor technology for the supercomputer and telecommunications industries.

A love for wine started Dan on a journey that took on a life of its own, in a kind of "if you give a mouse a cookie" kind of way. Drinking wine led to learning about wine; led to learning about winemaking; led to making wine as a home winemaker; led to planting a small 200 vine vineyard in his backyard; led to obtaining a Winemaker's Certificate from the UC Davis Distance Learning program; led to falling in love with Sta. Rita Hills; led to buying a 40 acre parcel and planting a 30 acre vineyard; led to, well, where he is today.

Dan loves to learn and is actively involved in every aspect of growing and making wine. In the vineyard, you will frequently see him on the tractor, working with the crew, or meeting with his soil and nutritionist and vineyard management 2 consultants. When the early spring weather gets cold, he's out in the wee hours turning on the frost protection systems. When he is not in the vineyard, you will find him at his second home at Lafond Winery, working as winemaker Bruce McGuire’s, assistant winemaker for their red wines.

It is difficult to talk about winemaking without talking about winegrowing. The quality of the fruit directly impacts the quality of the wine produced from it. At Kessler-Haak, we believe winemaking begins in the vineyard and that we are winegrowers first and foremost and winemakers second.

We live on and work in the vineyard. Coaxing the best fruit from each vine requires an integral involvement with the grape growing process; being there each day, touching the vines and soil and being hands-on in all aspects of the farming.

As winemakers, our goal is to craft great food friendly wines that speak of place and time. The single most important factor influencing this goal is the decision of when to harvest. We base this decision on a combination of factors including: sugar levels, pH, flavors, visual appearance of the fruit and vines, seed ripeness and the style of wine we are striving to create. Ripeness in a given year, which ultimately reflects time and place, is the optimal confluence of these factors.

Great wine, produced from ingredients of this quality, practically makes itself. Consequently, we feel the best winemaking approach is a minimalistic one, relying on traditional methods and techniques.

For our red wines, hand-harvesting begins before dawn to ensure the fruit remains chilled until it is ready for processing. At the winery, clusters are hand-sorted and gently de-stemmed. The fruit is cold soaked for a minimum of 4 days before allowing it to warm up naturally and begin primary fermentation. During fermentation, caps are punched down 2-3 times/day. The fermented 'must' is gently pressed before fermentation ends (Pinot) or, in some cases, after up to a 50 day extended maceration (Syrah). Pressed wines are settled and racked into French Burgundy and Hungarian oak barrels for malolactic (ML) fermentation and aging. Wines are aged without racking 10 (Pinot) to 15 (Syrah) months before being moved from barrel for blending and bottling, unfined and unfiltered, and sealed with natural cork. Bottled wines are typically aged up to 2 years before release.

For our Chardonnay wines, hand-harvesting also begins before dawn. Following whole cluster pressing and settling, the juice is racked to French Burgundy oak barrels for primary and ML fermentations and aged sur lie (with batonnage through ML fermentation) for up to 10 months. Finished wines are protein and cold stabilized and sterile filtered before moving them to natural cork closure bottles for additional aging of up to 1 year before release.

We are not big believers in seeking out awards for our wines. We believe the perception and appreciation of a wine is a very personal thing. A well-made wine speaks for itself. That being said, we have “tested the waters” with some of our wines to get a feel for customer acceptance. Results are as follows:

2008 KH Estate Grown Chardonnay: WE 92pts
2008 KH Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: WE 89pts
2009 KH Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: WE 90pts
2009 KH Estate Grown Pinot Noir: WE 89pts; BH 89pts
2010 KH Estate Grown Chardonnay: WE 89pts, V 90
2010 KH Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: BH 90pts, V 92
2010 KH Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Pommard Clone: WE 90pts, Cellar Selection; PinotFile: VG; BH 89pts, V 91
2010 KH Estate Grown Pinot Noir: V 90
2011 KH Estate Grown Pinot Noir: BH 89pts, WE 92pts, PinotFile VG, Toast of the Coast-Silver Medal
2011 KH Syrah, Lafond Vineyard: WE 89pts
2012 KH Estate Grown Sparkling Brut: BH 90pts
2012 KH Estate Grown “Ohana” Pinot Noir: WE 93pts
2013 KH Estate Grown Chardonnay: WE 93pts, PoP 92pts
2013 KH Estate Grown Rosé of Pinot Noir: WE 90pts, V 91pts
2013 KH Estate Grown “Ohana” Pinot Noir: WE 93pts
2013 KH Estate Grown “Synergy” Pinot Noir: WE 91pts
2013 KH Estate Grown “Sanctuary” Pinot Noir: WE 93pts, PoP 90pts
2013 KH Estate Grown “Symphony” Pinot Noir: WE 93pts, PoP 90pts
2013 KH Estate Grown “Four” Pinot Noir: WE 93pts, PoP 92pts
2013 KH Estate Grown “Intuition” Pinot Noir: WE 92pts
2013 KH Syrah, Sta. Rita Hills AVA: WE: 90pts
2014 KH Estate Grown Stainless Steel Chardonnay: WE: 91pts
2014 KH Estate Grown Chardonnay: WE 92pts-Editors’ Choice
2015 KH Estate Grown Chardonnay: WE 91pts