Staking out the Petaluma Gap – Iconic Sonoma Coast Terroir


Pinot Noir and Petaluma. 40 years ago, the received wisdom was that California Pinot Noir would never achieve the subtle brilliance of Burgundy and that Petaluma, home to dairy and chicken farmers, was far too cold for vineyards. Funny how things change. Indeed, California Pinots get better each year, and Petaluma may one day soon produce the very best. And that future may not be far off if the young Keller Estate continues down the path it is following.

 Keller Estate produces estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (as well as Syrah and Pinot Gris) on a 650-acre property located southeast of Petaluma – near the borderline of the Sonoma Coast and Carneros AVAs. In these rolling hills, cooled by the fog that blows in through the Petaluma Gap as well as from San Pablo Bay, early ripening, “cool climate” grapes are the obvious choice. In the early 1980s, Arturo Keller, an auto engineer from Mexico, and his family founded the estate. They planted vineyards but sold the first vintages of Chardonnay to other wineries. Impressed by the quality of their fruit, they began making wine under their own label from 2000. Today every detail in the vineyards and winery is overseen by Arturo’s daughter, Ana, a trained bio-chemist.

 Keller Estate’s vineyards are planted in soils that show all the complexity of being a former seabed. The complexity of the wines is enhanced further by the 9 different clones of Pinot Noir, 4 clones of Chardonnay, and 2 clones of Syrah planted in the vineyards. The wines are crafted carefully and naturally in a stunning gravity-flow winery. 

But the key to understanding Keller Estate’s wines is their extreme cool-climate location. Though many vineyard areas in Sonoma and Napa Counties are cooled by fog and ocean breezes, in the Petaluma Gap the fog rolls in a bit earlier and out later; the temperature drops so rapidly, the grapes retain much more crisp acidity even as they ripen and develop rich, fruit flavors. Currently, the Petaluma Gap is within the Sonoma Coast AVA. But if the Kellers and other winegrowers continue to demonstrate the uniqueness of the microclimate and soils, it may become one in the future.

Wine Maker

Julien Teichman





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Wines from this Winery

2019 Casa Petaluma Gap Chardonnay

Casa is Keller Estate’s new second label that happens to be sourced entirely from their prized La Cruz vineyard in the Petaluma Gap AVA in Sonoma County. Casa is home in Spanish, and the Petaluma Gap is where Keller Estate has proudly made its home for over 20 years. And because it’s so affordable and food-friendly, Casa Chardonnay is also a wine that’s eminently suited for drinking in our homes. Though it sees a bit of oak before release, Casa exudes all the character of a beautiful unwooded Chardonnay. The nose expresses fresh garden pears, accented with white blossoms, while the palate offers a full-bodied rush of grapefruit citrus, green apple and a bare hint of pineapple wrapped in a creamy texture. At the table, Casa Chardonnay would pair well with salmon or halibut or even roast chicken and pork dishes. 

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¥4,070 (incl. tax)
2020 Casa Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir

Casa is a sister winery of Keller Estate that focuses on producing exciting yet affordable wines from one of Northern California’s newest AVAs, the Petaluma Gap. Because of its unique geography, marine air is funneled through the Petaluma Gap throughout the growing season, keeping temperatures cool, even on sunny days, and maintaining the acidity needed for making Pinot Noir in a  bright, refreshing and flavorful style. Sourced entirely from the estate’s organically-farmed La Cruz vineyard, the fruit is fermented on natural yeasts, and the wine made with minimal intervention so as to bring out the qualities of the terroir. This wine has everything we expect from an exceptional, cool-climate Pinot Nor: a translucent amethyst color; aromas of red cherry, pomegranate, and baking spices; and mouthwatering berry flavors, framed by polished tannins. A versatile wine, it would go well with grilled salmon, a coq au vin, or even spicy Latin fare. 

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¥5,170 (incl. tax)
2018 Keller La Cruz Vineyard Petaluma Gap Chardonnay
2015 Keller La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

A few decades ago, the landscape where Keller Winery is situated was one of gentle rolling hills populated by small herds of cattle and strands of eucalyptus. But that was before winegrowers discovered the region’s potential for early ripeners like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the Petaluma Gap, vines are warmed by the afternoon sun only to be cooled off as soon as the fog rolls in in the evening. In Keller’s La Cruz Vineyard, four clones of Pinot Noir (primarily Pommard) planted in the mineral-rich clay soils contribute to the complexity of this seductive wine. Each clone is harvested and fermented separately in order to compose a final blend that truly expresses the vintage. The 2015 starts with a lovely translucent ruby red, and follows with fragrances of pine forest, rose petals, and Asian spice as well as bright cranberry and tart cherry flavors. It’s a pinot that sparks the senses and remains alive and delicious to the last drop. 

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¥7,700 (incl. tax)