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Washington Wine Month Stop #19: Kestrel Vintners

A love for the environment and creatures that inhabit it, hits close to home for Kestrel Vintners, our 19th stop on our Washington Winery tour.

Merlot, the Kestrel, watches over this winery and is the brand “spokesperson” so to speak.

See how Kestrel Vintners’ vision was able to come together for your wine loving palate.

About the Winery:

Kestrel Vintners opened their winery in early 1999 on three acres in the Prosser Wine and Food Park.

Their winery building is 15,000 square feet, which includes a 13,500 square foot cellar, tank, warehouse and barrel area as well as a 1,500 square foot tasting room, gift shop and office.

They opened their doors as a 3,000 case winery and are now at approximately 35,000 cases.

Kestrel Vintners are predominately a red wine producer with 90 percent of their production in Lady in Red, their red table blend, as well as their red varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. The remaining 10 percent is in Platinum – a blend of Gewurztraminer and Viognier, as well as Chardonnay and Viognier varietals.

Barrel aging plays an important part in their wine production. Kestrel’s wines are aged one-to-two years in the finest French, American and Hungarian oak barrels and provided bottle aging prior to release.

Kestrel Vintners’ Vision:

Kestrel innovatively crafts wines of the highest caliber, showcasing the unique terroir of the Pacific Northwest. Through passion, knowledge and stewardship, we give our customers, community, and the world a little piece of the good life.

The Kestrel View Estate Vineyard is home to some of the oldest Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec vines in the state with plantings dating back to 1972. Located in Central Washington, Kestrel View Estate Vineyard capitalizes on the region’s exceptional growing conditions. At 14.7 hours per day, Washington State’s northerly latitude averages two hours more sunlight than California’s prime growing regions. This allows the wine grapes to fully ripen. Warm temperatures throughout the day and cool nights allow the fruit’s natural acids to remain high, creating richly flavored and well-balanced wines.

At the beginning of each year and continuing throughout the growing season, the plants are assessed on a block-by-block and sometimes vine-by-vine basis. Specific viticulture practices are utilized based upon the destination of the fruit and the desire of the purchaser. In some years a small percentage of the estate fruit will find its way to other wineries committed to excellence.

The care with which the grapes are grown and the knowledge of the people involved in that process are critical in the production of fine wines. Praise is often directed to the winemaker, but even the winemaker’s most ardent supporters are quick to point out that exquisite wines begin with exquisite fruit. This commitment and a meticulous attention to detail have resulted in a fine tradition of exceptional wines worth their weight in gold.

About the Vineyards:

Overlooking the Yakima Valley from 1200′ up the Rattlesnake Slope, the Kestrel View Estate Vineyard is regarded as one of the premier vineyard sites in Washington State. It consists of two 80-acre vineyard sites.

The south block includes some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot vines in the State with plantings dating back to 1972. In 2003, Wine Enthusiast Magazine identified the “A renowned vineyard, one of the ones to look out for in Washington.” The combination of glacial soils, rainfall averaging 6-9 inches and about 155 frost-free days each year are ideal for the cultivation of wine grapes.

Vineyard Beginning
1972. Wente Clone Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Kestrel View Estate Vineyards are located in the eastern part of the Yakima Valley. They are situated due south of Sagebrush ridge (a flexure on the larger Rattlesnake Ridge that forms the northern boundary of the Valley).

120 acres planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Chardonnay. The Chardonnay plantings are the Wente Clone, and are the oldest continually-producing Chardonnay vines in the State of Washington.

Two blocks of approximately 80 acres each.

Soil Composition
The terroir consists primarily of basalt bedrock overlain by unconsolidated sediments deposited by glacial outburst floods overlain by windblown loess soils. Growing conditions are ideal, benefiting from the rain shadow effect of the Olympic and Cascade Mountain Ranges, soils derived from glacial sediments, and a warm, dry climate with abundant sunshine and cool nights due to high latitude and topography. Five distinct soil series are seen in the Kestrel Vineyards, with further subdivisions based on slope and degree of erosion of the original soil.

Between 1150′ and 1280′.

Exclusively drip irrigated from Roza irrigation district with deep well back-up.

Kestrel Terroir
A common thread is above average natural acidity, with beautiful tannin structure. The grapes from our old vines offer the ability to age wine and also a flavor profile beyond the typical fruit flavors that exudes an earthy mineral and spicy characteristic. Dark black fruit is common and a unique mint flavor profile is obvious.

About the Winemaker:

Flint Nelson joined the Kestrel team as Winemaker in May, 2004. He is an accomplished winemaker with nearly a decade of experience, most recently as the winemaker at Apex Cellars in Sunnyside. During his time with Apex, Flint was able to further his studies under the tutelage of Brian Carter, who crafted Kestrel’s earliest vintages.

Nelson knew at an early age he wanted to be a great winemaker. He has spent his life pursuing that dream. Educated at Washington State University, he graduated in 1991 with honors. He was one of the first recipients of the Walter Clore Scholarship. After internships in New Zealand and at Columbia Crest in Paterson, Washington, he began to realize his dream. He and his wife, also a winemaker, enjoy vacationing in wine growing regions around the world.

Kestrel’s General Manager, Mike Birdlebough, notes that they had hoped “to hit a home run with our new winemaker, but hiring Flint Nelson is a grand slam! We were searching for a promising winemaker to continue our tradition of producing quality wines. What we found in Flint is an accomplished winemaker, with tremendous experience in the cellar and with Yakima Valley fruit. We are thrilled to have him on board.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity to work at Kestrel,” said Nelson. “This is a winery with a wonderful reputation and I look forward to making great wines.”

Flint hit the ground running. He enhanced laboratory analyses and process controls to assure wines in production continue to enhance Kestrel’s reputation for quality. He developed a German Style off-dry wine (Pure Platinum) for their Tasting Room in Leavenworth, Washington. Interest attracted across the state required expanding production to assure that our Second Edition will be available in retail outlets as well.

Additionally, Flint has developed a new series of wines that are based on unusual varietals, clones, or processing techniques. The first wines in this Winemaker Select series include a Co-ferment Syrah, Malbec, and wild yeast Chardonnay; these low production wines will primarily be available through our wine club and tasting rooms. He captured the opportunity to produce a Signature Edition Chardonnay Ice Wine that has flown off the shelves, and crafted Kestrel’s first-ever Signature Edition Port. Not bad for his first year!

Merlot, the Kestrel

Saving the Kestrel:

Meet Merlot, an American Kestrel who is currently one of the many birds of prey being cared for by the Raptor Rehabilitation Center.  Merlot is an American Kestrel, rescued and recuperating in Selah, Washington at the Raptor House, a not for profit organization devoted to preserving the steadily declining falcon genus.

The Kestrel is the smallest North American falcon and is the protector of Kestrel Vintners’ vineyard and namesake. Annually, Kestrel Winery is honored to host Kestrel Festival, an effort to give back to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, who, since 1998 has been operating by donation only.

For years, Kestrel Vintners has supported the Raptor Rehabilitation Center with their Kestrel Festival. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances they will not be able to host this annual event.  However, the Raptor House needs help more than ever!

Kestrel Vintners will be providing opportunities throughout the year to make donations through them and you can always make a donation on your own by visiting this link.

About the Wines:

Collector Series Wines

The Collector Series Wines include our two most popular wines — the easy drinking food friendly red blend – Lady in Red, and a bright refreshing white blend named Pure Platinum. Both are designed to suit the palates of any wine lover and are packaged in unique collectable bottles.

Falcon Series Wines

The Falcon Series offers superior wine at a tremendous value and include the staples of our winery – handcrafted Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Rosé, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Viognier. These are great food wines, handcrafted and balanced with great fruit and complexity. They can be drunk now or placed in your cellar for several years.

Winemaker Select Wines

The Winemaker Select Series showcases our winemaker’s talent and expresses his interest in particular varietals, unique clones, yeast strains, and distinctive processing styles. Varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Mourvedre and Co-ferment Syrah and production is limited to less than 500 cases. These wines have a unique story.

Signature Edition Wines

Our Signature Edition Series Old Vine Merlot, Cabernet, and Raptor Red, our flagship Meritage blend, are elegant and refined – a function of the old vines planted in 1972 and a true expression of our terroir.

Kestrel Vintners

2890 Lee Road
Prosser, WA 99350

Phone (509) 786-2675
Fax (509) 786-2679


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    Theresa Dillon

    Theresa Dillon
    Theresa Dillon earned her bachelor’s degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. In her spare time she enjoys reading, attending concerts, weekly trivia nights, watching movies (especially her favorite The Wizard of Oz), and of course wine.