Black Kite Cellars is a small, family-owned and operated winery. Since our founding in 2003 we have committed ourselves to making the finest site-specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from great vineyards along the California coast. With the third generation now becoming involved, we intend to continue this journey for many years to come.
Inspiration | Burgundy
The inspiration for Black Kite Cellars came many years ago when Rebecca and Tom Birdsall bicycled through the Burgundy region in France. We went to Burgundy because we liked the wines that came from the region, particularly the refined wines produced from the Pinot Noir grape. For two weeks we meandered on our bikes along narrow roads through the famous Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune regions of the Côte d’Or. We were surprised to see how small the vineyards were, and how the wines differed significantly from one small town to the next, when they were literally just a short bike ride apart.
The Burgundy region made a powerful impression on us. From small, meticulously tended vineyards come some of the finest and rarest wines found in the world. The land and vines are respected and revered. The entire region is focused on wine production. Families own and tend vineyards for generations. Sometimes they just own specific rows in selected vineyards. Would it be possible to apply the Burgundian terroir-oriented approach in California?
Growing by the Navarro River
The opportunity to answer this question presented itself in 1995 when Rebecca’s parents, Donald and Maureen Green, purchased a remote 40 acre hillside parcel overlooking the Navarro River. The land is located in the bucolic Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, just north of Sonoma County along the Pacific Ocean. At the time the site featured beautiful Redwood groves, lush vegetation and a small, old Gewürztraminer vineyard planted on four acres along the river frontage. Seeing that Anderson Valley growers were having great success with Pinot Noir, the family decided to convert the vineyard to Pinot Noir and expand up the hill.
All of the natural conditions needed to produce a Burgundian style wine were in place: the right land, the right exposure, the right soil, and the right climate. So in 1999, the existing vineyard block was replanted to Pinot Noir, and two new vineyard blocks were developed on the hillside above the river, increasing the vineyard acreage to 12 acres.
Artists of the Vine
In 2003, the new vines produced their first crop. Most of the grapes were sold to local wineries, but we decided to keep a portion of the crop to develop it into the first release of wine under our own label. This became the first vintage for Black Kite Cellars.
We wanted the name of our winery to reflect the land, the family, and our ideals. We elected to name the winery after Donald Green's favorite bird, the Black Shouldered Kite (which has since been renamed the White Tailed Kite). These birds are both endangered and indigenous to Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. They are particularly beautiful, they can hover almost stationary in the air, and are most frequently seen in pairs. We have taken a few creative liberties with this bird as we have developed our name and label. We refer to it by its old name, shortening it to just Black Kite. Our label features the Black Kite’s distinctive red eyes.
From the outset, we decided to produce the best possible wine from our estate vineyard, which we named Kite’s Rest. In the Burgundian tradition, we follow and are committed to sustainable farming practices, detail-oriented vineyard management and thoughtful and balanced winemaking.
Our first step was to hire an outstanding vineyard manager. Paul Ardzrooni, who specializes in Pinot Noir in the Anderson Valley, began managing our vineyard with the 2004 vintage.
We next turned our attention to the style of Pinot Noir we were interested in producing. This involved tasting a great number of Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley, Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, Willamette Valley and Burgundy. It was a very enjoyable voyage of discovery which helped us to determine the nature of the winemaker to engage. We wanted a winemaker who specialized in producing site-specific and memorable wines from single vineyards, and who was skilled at working with growers to produce the best possible fruit every year.
We chose Jeff Gaffner, who came on board as winemaker for Black Kite Cellars starting with the 2005 vintage. Jeff has more than 35 years of experience and a track record of producing well-structured and refined wines from single vineyards.
Growing a Future
We focused on the grapes from our estate Kite’s Rest Vineyard up through the 2009 vintage. Starting with the 2010 vintage we have sought out and have been successful in finding other vineyards that produce outstanding and expressive Pinot Noir grapes. We have developed strong partnerships with the owners and managers of these vineyards. As in Burgundy, we have designated rows in each vineyard, and these vines are farmed to our specifications.
In 2011 we started buying Chardonnay grapes to make a Burgundian style Chardonnay. As of the 2015 Vintage we are now purchasing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from three different vineyards: Gap’s Crown Vineyard (Sonoma Coast), Soberanes Vineyard and Sierra Mar Vineyard (both in Santa Lucia Highlands).
We are also developing a second estate vineyard in Freestone, which is a great site for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, just seven miles from the Sonoma Coast. The first vintage from this vineyard is expected to be 2018.
We look forward to continuing to share with you our love of great wines in the Burgundian tradition produced from exceptional vineyards along the California coast.
Rebecca and Tom Birdsall
Co-founders and Owners