Robert Stemmler Winery
Sonoma County region
"We only do one wine, but we do it really, really well."
In 1976, a German expatriate named Robert Stemmler opened a winery in the Dry Creek Valley Region of Sonoma County. He was a graduate of the famed Bad Kreuznach Wine College in his native Germany who had made his way to California in 1961.
Upon reaching California, Robert Stemmler was immediately employed at the Charles Krug Winery in Napa Valley and later at such noted wineries as Inglenook in Rutherford and Simi in Sonoma. Along the way his reputation as a solid and foresighted winemaker continued to grow.
As Robert Stemmler Winery grew and prospered, Stemmler chose to explore the potentialities of his favorite varietal that had heretofore met with little acceptance in California, the soft and subtle and hard to grow Pinot Noir.
His first releases were in 1982 and by 1984’s vintage, critics were hailing the Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir as the ‘Best Pinot Noir in America.’
In 1989, Stemmler sold his winery to a German company, A.Racke GmBH, who continues to operate the winery today. Its total production of around 10,000 cases is approximately what it was when it was sold to the German company.
“What we were interested in was finding a winery that was poised to specialize,” explained Anna Moller-Racke, who is resident winegrower/president of the modern day Robert Stemmler Winery. Moller-Racke’s personal resume contains a solid wine background in production. She was formerly the director of vineyard operations for the iconic Buena Vista Winery for many years.
“We were very fortunate since the winery met our needs in terms of economy of scale,” she continued. “It was just at the time of the Pinot Noir breakthrough as far as consumer acceptance, and a great deal of the praise for the varietal’s success was given to Robert’s wines. Each winery at the time was making a number of different varietals and I think Robert Stemmler Winery was one of the first to really specialize in just one particular varietal.”
Today’s current makeup is about 80% Pinot Noir and the remainder in Chardonnay. Moeller-Racke also serves as the president of another small winery, Donum Estate that draws from the common 125-planted acres in the Carneros Region of Sonoma.
Even the number of employees has remained smallish, with a total of ten handling the myriad of chores and responsibilities a modern winery provides.
“We are really small and I like it that way,” Anna Moller-Racke explained further. “Right now, we all do a little bit of everything and it all seems to come together in the wines. I think I was named President because my department (Winegrowing) was the largest.”
Accolades and critical praise have remained constant for Robert Stemmler Winery for more than the past two decades and show no signs of abating. Robert Stemmler Winery wines continue to win top competitive awards in categories dotted with wines that are a good deal more expensive.
“The key to our success is quite simple,” Moller-Racke added. “The fruit we get from Carneros is among the finest in California and everyone knows that is the real key to any successful wine. Our volume might change according to the specific vintage, but is never less than 9,000 cases or more than 11,000. At that level we know the quality we are able to produce on an ongoing basis.”
She is also quick to point out that the advent of Phylloxera in the area just before the beginning of the 1990’s was actually a blessing in disguise for her vineyards. “Even though it took Carneros almost a complete decade to replant, the resultant quality increase brought us back into the forefront of viticulture.” Many experts are quick to agree. Many new Chardonnays and even more Pinot Noirs from the region are gathering kudos whenever presented to the general public.
And founder Robert Stemmler, now 79, is currently in semi-retirement but still assists whenever his winery calls. He recently poured a new Robert Stemmler Winery Pinot Noir release at a Lake Tahoe tasting.
All this is quite rewarding to Anna Moller-Racke, who sees her winery as a continuing presence in the fine wine market.
“We only do one wine,” she smiled, “ but we do it really, really well.” Reminded about the chardonnay she also produces, she added happily, “Well, make that two wines, but both are really good.”
A Note from the Winegrower
Dear Platinum Series Members,
Our project started in 2000 when the idea of creating an estate-based, high-end Pinot Noir was born. By 2001 the Donum Estate was established and Robert Stemmler became one of the two labels under this project. Our 120 acres of vineyards are over 80% planted to Pinot Noir. Our goal is to showcase small lot Pinot Noirs that are site specific. Farmed with the utmost attention to detail, vinified to illuminate the various sites, our wines are always good examples of the vintage and are solid and well made from vine to wine.
Our Estate is very complex from the different selections/clones, to its topography, soil types and vine age. All these variations bring richness to our wines. The Ferguson vineyard is an important part of our program. Planted in ’74 to a Martini selection of Pinot Noir on a Haire Clay soil, these vines are like veterans. They know the drill, they have seen drought and wet conditions, they know about the wind in Carneros and the heatwaves around Labor Day.
Vines remind me so often of people. They are no longer youngsters but bring consistency and layering to the table. Martini gives us perfume and elegance. The cool growing conditions of Carneros give the structure (acid) or back bone to the wine. The 2005 Ferguson is a perfect example of this laying and the complexity of flavors.
The wine has a continued conversation with the consumer, is elegant and strong and is one of my favorites in our cellar.
About the Vineyard
The Robert Stemmler 2007 ‘Ferguson Block’ Pinot Noir was produced from one of three vineyards comprising The Donum Estate vineyards of Sonoma County. Ferguson Block’s twenty acres were planted in 1974 and consist exclusively of Pinot Noir. The vineyard is perched on the gently rolling hills that rise up from San Pablo Bay on the Sonoma side of Carneros.
Carneros, the only AVA (American Viticultural Area) that spans both Napa and Sonoma counties, was established as an appellation in 1983, one of the first wine appellations created in California. The unique region is distinguished from the rest of Napa and Sonoma by its climate. It is considered a relatively cool climate viticulture area for growing grapes, mostly due to the marine in uence from the San Pablo Bay. The area also experiences a wide fluctuation in temperature from morning to night, which is responsible for the maintenance of the acidity and structure in Carneros wines, primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Kenneth Juhasz - Winemaker
Kenneth Juhasz (YOU-haas) was appointed winemaker at Robert Stemmler Winery in 2005, bringing with him impressive experience and an incredible commitment to creating wines of power and elegance that express the site from which they are from.
Kenneth’s interest in enology had grown as he worked his way through school in fine restaurants and the local wine shop in his native North Carolina. After college, he eagerly pursued his passion for Pinot Noir west to the Willamette Valley, where he began working with winemaker Ken Bernards. Over the next few years, Bernards became Kenneth’s mentor. When Juhasz came to Carneros in 2002, Bernards helped him create a fresh identity for the Robert Stemmler label, and Kenneth became winemaker just three years later. Kenneth also gained experience in Oregon and the South Island of New Zealand, where he built a start-up Pinot Noir operation at Hinton Estate. Working closely with wine grower Anne Moller-Racke, Kenneth is now dedicated to crafting outstanding wines from Robert Stemmler’s estate vineyards in the renowned Sonoma-Carneros region.