Walter Hansel Winery & Vineyard
A reader alerted me to this producer in the Russian River Valley. I had not come across the winery’s Pinot
Noirs and Chardonnays for some time because the winery does not participate in any of the showcase Pinot
Noir events in California and Oregon (I love the quote from The Winehound about Walter Hansel, “Under the radar but never over
the top.”). I had last tasted the 2003 vintage and found the Pinot Noirs rather austere in style. I felt it was time
to revisit the wines with the highly touted 2007 vintage and I was very pleased that I did.
Walter Hansel Winery & Vineyard has achieved a low-key but dedicated following for Burgundian-styled
Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley. Walter Hansel was a lifelong wine lover who first
planted vineyards in 1978, just down the road from Kistler and Dehlinger. Stephen Hansel, Walter’s son,
planted additional acres in the late 1980s, founded the winery in 1996, and made the winery’s first commercial
vintage that year, releasing just 350 cases of Chardonnay and 70 cases of Pinot Noir. Additional vineyards and
a new winemaking facility were added to the family’s estate in 1999. Stephen Hansel owns several automobile
dealerships in Sonoma County, which allows him to indulge his passion for winegrowing.
Stephen Hansel’s mentor was Tom Rochioli, who advised him in his early years of winemaking when he
worked out of a garage. Today, the winery farms 75+ acres located at the southern tip of the Russian River
Valley near the Sebastopol Hills. The estate vineyard is planted to five different French and California Pinot
Noir clones and five Chardonnay clones with the oldest vines over 25 years old. The clones are planted in
various vineyard blocks, and the resultant wines have subtle differences resulting from the interaction of soils
and clones. The vineyard designated wines are clonal specific and the estate wines (non-vineyard designated)
are a blend of many clones from a variety of vineyard locations. Walter Hansel Winery also farms 4 acres of a
neighbor’s Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.
All the wines are estate grown. The vineyard-designate wines are produced in quantities of 100 to 750 cases
and the estate wines approximately 1,200 cases. Prices are reasonable considering the quality. All the Pinot
Noirs produced vary to some degree in flavor, density, and acidity, but I found the winemaking impeccable in
the 2007 wines. Every wine I tasted was singing in harmony. A savory vein runs through all the wines which are
quite drinkable now. These are not opulent-styled Pinot Noirs meant for sipping, but rather sit-down, table
wines meant for food. About 5,000 cases of Pinot Noir, 5,500 cases of Chardonnay and 1,500 cases of
Sauvignon Blanc are produced annually.
The Walter Hansel wines are available through an online order form that can be faxed to the winery. The wines
are distributed to fine retail stores and restaurants in California. Winery tours and tastings are available by
appointment (contact Stephen at 707-525-3614).