Our Story

We are a small family-owned winery living and working by the rhythms of the vineyard. Striving to produce intensely exquisite Pinot Noir from soil to cellar to the bottle in your hands… began with a walk through an old apple orchard 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

Read Our Story

Timeline

Our beginning

We 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 decrepit, barely-producing apple orchard. Wanting to make better use of the land, we explored the idea of planting grapes. When we established our vineyard in 1996, we were one of the first to plant grapes in the Sebastopol Hills in western Sonoma County.

Neighborly advice

Many grape growers thought the area — 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean — was too cold and windy for vineyards. But our nextdoor 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.”

Pinot 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 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  vineyard manager Eric Neal—who works with us to this day—and with a good plan in place, we planted the vineyard in the spring of 1996.

Selling our grapes

We nurtured our vines for four years, and then had our first harvest in fall 2000. In the early years we sold our grapes to wineries both well known and obscure. Notable early customers were Kosta Browne (a recently launched unknown that would go on to take the Pinot world by storm), Landmark, Flowers, Gary Farrell, 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. Kosta Browne has made a Kanzler vineyard designate every year since 2002, with the 2004 rating 98 points from Wine Spectator, still one of the highest scores ever awarded to a domestically produced Pinot Noir. The vineyard has also been highlighted by Rivers-Marie and Lynmar Estate.

As our wine production has grown we’ve had to cut back on grape sales, but are proud to still have our vineyard featured by premium Pinot Noir producers.

Our own wine

Steve had worked the 2001 harvest at Landmark Vineyards, where he’d met fellow cellar worker (now Landmark winemaker) Greg Stach. They made a little wine together from second crop fruit in 2001, and then in 2002 they picked a half 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 liked the wine so much they asked to serve it at their 2004 wedding. We quickly designed and printed a label, slapped it on the bottle, and served it to the 200 guests. They drank eight cases, 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 barrels and eight used, picked four tons of fruit, and made our first 250 cases of official Kanzler Vineyards wine.

Starting a start-up

Starting a business 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 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.

A second generation

Alex was 10 when we planted our vineyard. He grew up with our vines, and worked with them as a field hand when he was barely 16. 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. In 2014, he left that position to focus exclusively on Kanzler Vineyards.

Adding Chardonnay

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 tend to fall into one of two styles: voluptuous, fruity, buttery and oaky; or steely, acidic, crisp, and citrusy. Ours walks the line between these two camps: opulent and fruit forward yet crisp and lively.

We now produce our Chardonnay from Walker Station Vineyard, a tiny gem we lease and farm in the prized Green Valley neighborhood.

Adding a Kanzler

Alex Kanzler and Breauna Cooper were married in 2016. While she was still a technical recruiter for Apple, Breauna assisted in almost all facets of the winery and vineyard in her spare time, and came to love the wine life. As luck would have it, client care, sales, and hospitality turned out to be a perfect fit for her, so to the family’s delight, she shifted paths.

Always fine tuning

In 2016, using a photo taken by Alex, we redesigned our label to clearly feature the estate vineyard. We also added a Rosé of Pinot Noir to the lineup, rounding out the collection to six wines.

Today

Kanzler Vineyards has earned a reputation for consistently producing highly regarded Pinot Noir from the Sebastopol Hills of western Sonoma County. We continue to sell grapes to a few select producers whose focus is letting the essence of the vineyard come through the wine. We remain faithful to our core values: a family-owned business producing wines that are thoughtfully farmed and patiently crafted.

Philosophy

It’s about soil, air, light, and vines. Then, traditional cellar techniques, good French oak, and time.

Our Team

Our beginning

We 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 decrepit, barely-producing apple orchard. Wanting to make better use of the land, we explored the idea of planting grapes. When we established our vineyard in 1996, we were one of the first to plant grapes in the Sebastopol Hills in western Sonoma County.

Neighborly advice

Many grape growers thought the area — 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean — was too cold and windy for vineyards. But our nextdoor 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.”

Pinot 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 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  vineyard manager Eric Neal—who works with us to this day—and with a good plan in place, we planted the vineyard in the spring of 1996.

Selling our grapes

We nurtured our vines for four years, and then had our first harvest in fall 2000. In the early years we sold our grapes to wineries both well known and obscure. Notable early customers were Kosta Browne (a recently launched unknown that would go on to take the Pinot world by storm), Landmark, Flowers, Gary Farrell, 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. Kosta Browne has made a Kanzler vineyard designate every year since 2002, with the 2004 rating 98 points from Wine Spectator, still one of the highest scores ever awarded to a domestically produced Pinot Noir. The vineyard has also been highlighted by Rivers-Marie and Lynmar Estate.

As our wine production has grown we’ve had to cut back on grape sales, but are proud to still have our vineyard featured by premium Pinot Noir producers.

Our own wine

Steve had worked the 2001 harvest at Landmark Vineyards, where he’d met fellow cellar worker (now Landmark winemaker) Greg Stach. They made a little wine together from second crop fruit in 2001, and then in 2002 they picked a half 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 liked the wine so much they asked to serve it at their 2004 wedding. We quickly designed and printed a label, slapped it on the bottle, and served it to the 200 guests. They drank eight cases, 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 barrels and eight used, picked four tons of fruit, and made our first 250 cases of official Kanzler Vineyards wine.

Starting a start-up

Starting a business 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 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.

A second generation

Alex was 10 when we planted our vineyard. He grew up with our vines, and worked with them as a field hand when he was barely 16. 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. In 2014, he left that position to focus exclusively on Kanzler Vineyards.

Adding Chardonnay

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 tend to fall into one of two styles: voluptuous, fruity, buttery and oaky; or steely, acidic, crisp, and citrusy. Ours walks the line between these two camps: opulent and fruit forward yet crisp and lively.

We now produce our Chardonnay from Walker Station Vineyard, a tiny gem we lease and farm in the prized Green Valley neighborhood.

Adding a Kanzler

Alex Kanzler and Breauna Cooper were married in 2016. While she was still a technical recruiter for Apple, Breauna assisted in almost all facets of the winery and vineyard in her spare time, and came to love the wine life. As luck would have it, client care, sales, and hospitality turned out to be a perfect fit for her, so to the family’s delight, she shifted paths.

Always fine tuning

In 2016, using a photo taken by Alex, we redesigned our label to clearly feature the estate vineyard. We also added a Rosé of Pinot Noir to the lineup, rounding out the collection to six wines.

Today

Kanzler Vineyards has earned a reputation for consistently producing highly regarded Pinot Noir from the Sebastopol Hills of western Sonoma County. We continue to sell grapes to a few select producers whose focus is letting the essence of the vineyard come through the wine. We remain faithful to our core values: a family-owned business producing wines that are thoughtfully farmed and patiently crafted.