Last updated on October 13, 2023
The wineries of the Sta. Rita Hills focuses primarily on the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals. Kessler-Hawk Vineyard and Wines are one of those wineries, but they also create some other varietals that make their winery unique. Owned by Dan and Ellen Kessler, Kessler-Hawk is one of the few Stae. Rita Hills wineries that produce a Riesling.
The Story of Kessler-Hawk Vineyard and Wines
Although Dan came from the tech industry, he had always been fascinated with wine, winemaking, and grape growing. He started making his own wine using a box kit at home. Dan won a gold medal from this elementary winemaking process. Soon after, Dan planted 200 grapevines in his backyard. As Dan’s interest in wine increased, he decided to obtain a Winemaker’s Certificate from the UC Davis Distance Learning Program.
After adopting this new life, Dan wanted to escape from the fast pace of the city and tech industry and pursue his passion for making wine and growing grapes. In 2004, he purchased the 40-acre parcel of land now known as the Kessler-Hawk Vineyard. He dedicated 30 acres to his new vineyard and began growing grapes in 2005. By 2008, Kessler-Hawk had their first harvest. Thus, Dan’s backyard hobby became a reality, encompassing a new career.
Growing Grapes in Sta. Rita Hills
Despite not being officially certified organic, Kessler-Hawk Vineyard and Wines proudly uses organic farming, a plus for many customers who prefer a natural brand. The vineyard is planted with 3 acres of three different clones of Chardonnay. The rest of the property is planted with about seven clones of Pinot Noir.
While growing his own grapes, Dan became the Assistant Winemaker at Lafond Winery. There, he worked with Bruce McGuire, a loyal veteran of the wine industry.
Kessler-Hawk Vineyard and Wines is located in what is probably the coldest spot in the Sta. Rita Hills. This microclimate presents many challenges in growing the Pinot Noir grape. Often, unexpected frost in the spring or in the fall presents problems that require quick action to save the season’s harvest.
As my husband and I strolled through the vineyards with Dan Kessler, one could definitely feel Dan’s exuberance and see the passion Dan has for his vineyard and the wines he produces.
Our visit to Kessler-Hawk turned out to be a wonderful afternoon sitting in the backyard of Dan and Ellen’s home, casually sipping wine and sharing stories. The hours drifted by quickly, and what was to be a two-hour visit turned out to be six hours.
The Kesslers are affable and down to earth. It is no wonder Dan’s journey led him from the hustle of the city to the quiet, peaceful, and serene locale of the Sta. Rita Hills. One can see how this voyage has evolved, allowing Dan’s creative side to flourish in his wonderful wines.
We sampled seven of the Kessler-Hawk wines. My favorites were the 2011 Dry Riesling Lafond and the 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir. Although the Riesling is a dry one, it is very fruity. The grapes come from Lafond Winery, as this vineyard is the only location where Riesling is planted in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The Riesling aged in stainless steel.
The Kessler-Hawk Rosé is quite complex. I found this Rosé, a dry wine produced from 100% pressed and fermented Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir. After the Pinot Noir grapes are destemmed, they are cold-soaked prior to fermentation.
The 2009 Chardonnay exudes a crisp flavor and European style. The wine aged in older oak barrels, which prevents the wine from tasting oaky. There is also no toast in these barrels.
Kessler-Hawk offers two Pinot Noirs. The 2009 Pinot Noir combines four clones. My first impression was one of intensity. In time, however, this wine really opened up, revealing a wonderfully balanced Pinot Noir. The 2009 Clone 2A Pinot Noir is more reserved and earthy. Both these Pinot Noirs have tremendous holding power.
My husband and I then tasted the 2009 and 2008 Turner Vineyard Syrah. These are cool-climate Syrahs. I preferred 2008, with its fragrant nose and peppery flavor.
Our visit to Kessler-Hawk was well worth it, and we came home laden with the exceptional wines we had tasted.
For more information on tastings and purchasing:
Kessler-Hawk Vineyard and Wines
300 N. 12th Street
Lompoc, CA 93436
TASTING ROOM Hours
Thursday 1 pm – 5 pm
Friday Noon – 6 pm
Saturday 11 am – 6 pm
Sunday 11 am – 5 pm