Our Story

As a small, family-owned winery we live our lives amidst the vines. Our vineyard and the rhythms of the season are constant reminders that the soil, the air, the water and the vines are the essence of the wines we craft. We’ve always said that great fruit is the real star of our winemaking team. So we let the grapes take center stage, patiently nurturing the vines to produce fruit with intense, ripe and balanced flavors. Then we let time, traditional winemaking techniques and good French oak work their magic.

Read Our Story

Timeline

Our Beginning

When we established our vineyard in 1996, we were one of the first to plant grapes in the Sebastopol Hills in western Sonoma County. We’d moved here in 1994 with the desire to raise our family in the country. We fell in love with the property, which at the time was the site of a very old and barely-producing apple orchard. Wanting to make better use of the land, we explored the idea of planting grapes. Many grape growers thought Sebastopol Hills was too cold and windy for vineyards. But our next door neighbor, Perry Kozlowski of Kozlowski Farms, whose family has been growing apples and berries in Sonoma County since 1949, thought otherwise. “You can grow apples in 48 states,” he said. “You can grow premium wine grapes in about three places in the world. You’re living in one of them. If I was you, I’d plant grapes.”

From the ground up

Sonoma County Viticulture Advisor Rhonda Smith of the University of California at Davis also thought the Sebastopol Hills had excellent potential as an area for growing Pinot Noir. So we followed Perry and Rhonda’s advice. With no prior farming experience, Steve immersed himself in the study of grape cultivation, seeking advice from neighbors, winemakers, vineyard managers and soil experts all around Sonoma County. He took classes at UC Davis and Santa Rosa Junior College. Lastly, we contracted with longtime vineyard manager Eric Neal, and with a good plan in place, we planted the vineyard in the spring of 1996.

Selling our grapes

We nurtured and tended our vines for four years and our first harvest was in fall 2000. In those first years we sold our grapes to wineries both known and unknown. Notable early customers were Landmark Vineyards, Flowers Vineyard and Winery, and Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery. Unknowns included recently launched Kosta Browne Wines, Rhys Vineyards, and CL Wines. It didn’t take long for our clients to realize that our vineyard produced Pinot Noir of rare distinction and quality. CL Wines vineyard designated the very first vintage, and Kosta Browne has made a Kanzler vineyard designate Pinot every year since 2002 (with the 2004 rating 98 points by Wine Spectator, still the highest score ever awarded to a domestically produced Pinot Noir.) As our wine production has grown we’ve had to cut back our grape sales, but are proud to still have our vineyard featured by premium Pinot Noir producers such as Kosta Browne and Lynmar Estate.

Our own wine

Steve had worked the 2001 harvest at Landmark Vineyards where he’d met fellow cellar worker (now Landmark Vineyards’ winemaker), Greg Stach. They made a little wine together from second crop fruit in 2001, and then in 2002 they picked a ½ ton of grapes, fermented them in an open top bin, pressed the wine with an old hand-crank basket press, and put it in a barrel. We tasted it periodically and almost sent the wine down the drain, but in 2004 Steve opened a bottle and the wine was a revelation. The ugly caterpillar had morphed into a beautiful butterfly.

A winery born of a wedding

Our daughter Melissa Kanzler and her fiancé James Grant, set to get married in 2004, liked the wine so much they asked to serve it at their wedding. We quickly designed and printed a label, slapped it on the bottle, and served it to the 200 guests. They drank eight cases! Everyone said it was the best Pinot Noir they’d ever tasted and urged us to make more. Until then, we hadn’t seriously considered making wine other than for our own use. But that fall we bought two new and eight used barrels, picked four tons of fruit from the vineyard, and made our first 250 cases of Kanzler Family Vineyards wine.

Starting a start-up

Starting a business, even in the wine industry, is not for the faint of heart. We felt confident about our farming and our grapes, and we had good support from Greg in making our first few vintages. But the ins and outs of everything else having to do with starting a winery – bottling, labeling, cellaring, selling, shipping, keeping track of inventory, bookkeeping, compliance – turned out to be a steep learning curve. We spent many, many nights around the dining room table together, figuring things out as we went. We worked hard and learned a lot in those first years, but it was satisfying in a way that no other job had ever been.

The allure of winemaking - a second generation

Alex was ten when we first planted our vineyard. He grew up with our vines, and worked with them as a field hand when he was barely sixteen. But it wasn’t until after college that he caught the winemaking bug. When he did, he followed it from Sonoma to New Zealand to Oregon and back to Sonoma, working as a harvest and cellar intern at several renowned wineries and eventually as an associate winemaker. As he proved his mettle elsewhere, he progressively took on more of the winemaking responsibilities at Kanzler. In 2011, we named him winemaker, though he kept his “day job” at another Sonoma County winery for three more years. In 2014, he left that position to focus exclusively on Kanzler Family Vineyards.

First Chardonnay- A Fine Balance

When we decided to add a Chardonnay to our portfolio, we looked to the cooler, hillier neighborhoods of the western Russian River Valley where we believe the grape reaches its fullest expression. Today’s Chardonnays seem to fall into one of two styles, either voluptuous and fruity with pronounced butter and oak, or steely and acidic, with an emphasis on crisp, citrus-like fruit. Our Chardonnay walks the line between these two camps with a wine that is full-bodied and fruit forward as well as crisp and lively.

Our Little Gem, Walker Station Vineyard

Harry Walker has grown wine grapes in Napa Valley, Knights Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Lodi since 1968. In 2001, he found an ideal site on an east-facing slope in a cool valley southwest of Forestville in the Russian River Valley where he planted 3.2 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Walker Station is named after Harry’s original hometown of Walker Station, Kentucky. Now retired, Harry approached us about leasing his vineyard and we leapt at the opportunity to farm this little gem of a site renowned for its exquisite fruit.

Today

Today Kanzler Family Vineyards has earned a reputation for consistently producing highly regarded Pinot Noir from our own estate vineyard and from other carefully selected vineyards in the Sebastopol Hills region of western Sonoma County. We continue to sell our Pinot Noir grapes to producers like us who care about letting the essence of the vineyard come through in the wine. In 2016, we added a Rose of Pinot Noir to the line-up and launched a new label that more prominently features our home and vineyard. We credit Alex for the photograph capturing the beauty of Kanzler Vineyard featured on our new package. As our small portfolio grows we remain faithful to our core values and identity: a family-owned winery with wines that are thoughtfully farmed and patiently crafted.

Philosophy

Farming is our passion.
Winemaking is our craft.
We share our family’s story in every bottle.

Our Team

Our Beginning

When we established our vineyard in 1996, we were one of the first to plant grapes in the Sebastopol Hills in western Sonoma County. We’d moved here in 1994 with the desire to raise our family in the country. We fell in love with the property, which at the time was the site of a very old and barely-producing apple orchard. Wanting to make better use of the land, we explored the idea of planting grapes. Many grape growers thought Sebastopol Hills was too cold and windy for vineyards. But our next door neighbor, Perry Kozlowski of Kozlowski Farms, whose family has been growing apples and berries in Sonoma County since 1949, thought otherwise. “You can grow apples in 48 states,” he said. “You can grow premium wine grapes in about three places in the world. You’re living in one of them. If I was you, I’d plant grapes.”

From the ground up

Sonoma County Viticulture Advisor Rhonda Smith of the University of California at Davis also thought the Sebastopol Hills had excellent potential as an area for growing Pinot Noir. So we followed Perry and Rhonda’s advice. With no prior farming experience, Steve immersed himself in the study of grape cultivation, seeking advice from neighbors, winemakers, vineyard managers and soil experts all around Sonoma County. He took classes at UC Davis and Santa Rosa Junior College. Lastly, we contracted with longtime vineyard manager Eric Neal, and with a good plan in place, we planted the vineyard in the spring of 1996.

Selling our grapes

We nurtured and tended our vines for four years and our first harvest was in fall 2000. In those first years we sold our grapes to wineries both known and unknown. Notable early customers were Landmark Vineyards, Flowers Vineyard and Winery, and Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery. Unknowns included recently launched Kosta Browne Wines, Rhys Vineyards, and CL Wines. It didn’t take long for our clients to realize that our vineyard produced Pinot Noir of rare distinction and quality. CL Wines vineyard designated the very first vintage, and Kosta Browne has made a Kanzler vineyard designate Pinot every year since 2002 (with the 2004 rating 98 points by Wine Spectator, still the highest score ever awarded to a domestically produced Pinot Noir.) As our wine production has grown we’ve had to cut back our grape sales, but are proud to still have our vineyard featured by premium Pinot Noir producers such as Kosta Browne and Lynmar Estate.

Our own wine

Steve had worked the 2001 harvest at Landmark Vineyards where he’d met fellow cellar worker (now Landmark Vineyards’ winemaker), Greg Stach. They made a little wine together from second crop fruit in 2001, and then in 2002 they picked a ½ ton of grapes, fermented them in an open top bin, pressed the wine with an old hand-crank basket press, and put it in a barrel. We tasted it periodically and almost sent the wine down the drain, but in 2004 Steve opened a bottle and the wine was a revelation. The ugly caterpillar had morphed into a beautiful butterfly.

A winery born of a wedding

Our daughter Melissa Kanzler and her fiancé James Grant, set to get married in 2004, liked the wine so much they asked to serve it at their wedding. We quickly designed and printed a label, slapped it on the bottle, and served it to the 200 guests. They drank eight cases! Everyone said it was the best Pinot Noir they’d ever tasted and urged us to make more. Until then, we hadn’t seriously considered making wine other than for our own use. But that fall we bought two new and eight used barrels, picked four tons of fruit from the vineyard, and made our first 250 cases of Kanzler Family Vineyards wine.

Starting a start-up

Starting a business, even in the wine industry, is not for the faint of heart. We felt confident about our farming and our grapes, and we had good support from Greg in making our first few vintages. But the ins and outs of everything else having to do with starting a winery – bottling, labeling, cellaring, selling, shipping, keeping track of inventory, bookkeeping, compliance – turned out to be a steep learning curve. We spent many, many nights around the dining room table together, figuring things out as we went. We worked hard and learned a lot in those first years, but it was satisfying in a way that no other job had ever been.

The allure of winemaking - a second generation

Alex was ten when we first planted our vineyard. He grew up with our vines, and worked with them as a field hand when he was barely sixteen. But it wasn’t until after college that he caught the winemaking bug. When he did, he followed it from Sonoma to New Zealand to Oregon and back to Sonoma, working as a harvest and cellar intern at several renowned wineries and eventually as an associate winemaker. As he proved his mettle elsewhere, he progressively took on more of the winemaking responsibilities at Kanzler. In 2011, we named him winemaker, though he kept his “day job” at another Sonoma County winery for three more years. In 2014, he left that position to focus exclusively on Kanzler Family Vineyards.

First Chardonnay- A Fine Balance

When we decided to add a Chardonnay to our portfolio, we looked to the cooler, hillier neighborhoods of the western Russian River Valley where we believe the grape reaches its fullest expression. Today’s Chardonnays seem to fall into one of two styles, either voluptuous and fruity with pronounced butter and oak, or steely and acidic, with an emphasis on crisp, citrus-like fruit. Our Chardonnay walks the line between these two camps with a wine that is full-bodied and fruit forward as well as crisp and lively.

Our Little Gem, Walker Station Vineyard

Harry Walker has grown wine grapes in Napa Valley, Knights Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Lodi since 1968. In 2001, he found an ideal site on an east-facing slope in a cool valley southwest of Forestville in the Russian River Valley where he planted 3.2 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Walker Station is named after Harry’s original hometown of Walker Station, Kentucky. Now retired, Harry approached us about leasing his vineyard and we leapt at the opportunity to farm this little gem of a site renowned for its exquisite fruit.

Today

Today Kanzler Family Vineyards has earned a reputation for consistently producing highly regarded Pinot Noir from our own estate vineyard and from other carefully selected vineyards in the Sebastopol Hills region of western Sonoma County. We continue to sell our Pinot Noir grapes to producers like us who care about letting the essence of the vineyard come through in the wine. In 2016, we added a Rose of Pinot Noir to the line-up and launched a new label that more prominently features our home and vineyard. We credit Alex for the photograph capturing the beauty of Kanzler Vineyard featured on our new package. As our small portfolio grows we remain faithful to our core values and identity: a family-owned winery with wines that are thoughtfully farmed and patiently crafted.