Santa Ynez Valley AVA
Producing "terroir expressive" wines that are turning heads and gaining fans throughout the wine world
Dan and Ellen (Haak) Kessler own and operate Kessler-Haak Vineyards, a relatively small producer in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Their story is a familiar one in the wine industry. Dan Kessler started drinking wine, then learned about wine, became a home winemaker and eventually planted 200 vines in his backyard. His wife, Ellen Haak-Kessler was a native Oregonian and also a successful software developer who shared his interest in wine. Along the way, Dan Kessler also earned a winemaking certificate from the first UC Davis Distance Learning Program and developed a fondness for the difficult Pinot Noir varietal. The couple fell in love with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA and decided to purchase a 40-acre parcel. In 2005, they planted Pinot Noir (7 different clones) and Chardonnay (3 clones) in the cool climate region and began life as vineyard owners.
While Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are their mainstays, the Kessler-Haaks became intrigued with the Nebbiolo grape and began adding it to their line-up. If you aren’t familiar with the big, bold Nebbiolo varietal, you’re in for a real treat! This ancient grape has been referenced back as far as the 13th Century hailing from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. As with Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo is a very fussy grape variety to grow – it flowers early, ripens late and can struggle to ripen fully.
Also like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo is considered to be a “terroir-expressive” varietal, in that it picks up more of the earth, soil, and climate characteristics versus other grapes, which means it can taste wildly different depending on where it’s grown. This red grape of Northern Italy has found a second home in the Los Alamos area of Santa Barbara County. With some of the vines planted from cuttings brought over from Europe over 25 years ago, these vineyards have long been a favorite source for many of California’s most acclaimed wineries. With its light red color and light aroma, this Nebbiolo will surprise you with its full mouthfeel and a long fruitful finish.
“We specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay due to the location of our vineyard,” informed Dan Kessler. “But, it’s nice to branch out to other varietals as well. We have added Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc to our offerings. Most grapes are from our estate vineyards, but we also source from other highly sought-after vineyards whose locales allow us to feature the terroir of those vineyards in varietals that don’t grow well in our area.”
He stated, “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.” We know our Garagiste Wine Club members will relish at the opportunity to discover this wonderful boutique winery and the under-the-radar Nebbiolo grape!
Map of the area
Dan Kessler - Winemaker
Dan Kessler was one of the first graduates of UC Davis’ distance learning program class that provided him a winemaker’s certificate in 2006. He has also worked at nearby (Buellton) Lafond Winery as assistant winemaker for Bruce McGuire to further enhance his role as winemaker. Kessler’s approach to winemaking is a minimalistic one and Kessler relies on traditional methods and techniques. He is on record as feeling the single most important decision that influences winemaking is when to harvest the fruit, a direct reference to winegrowing as opposed to winemaking. All estate fruit on the Kessler-Haak Vineyard is picked nocturnally and follows organic farming methods.