Over the course of a career spanning almost four decades, Kirk Lokka earned a reputation as one of the most accomplished and respected vineyard managers in North America. Kirk was instrumental in planning and planting Hallberg Ranch and Pinot Hill, with a level of meticulous detail and thoughtfulness worthy of grand cru vineyards. He also spearheaded Emeritus’s adoption of dry farming at both vineyards—a visionary approach to farming California Pinot Noir that further elevated the remarkable quality of our fruit.
Kirk was born and raised in Sonoma. He first decided that he wanted to become a farmer at the age of eight, while riding the tractor at his grandfather’s farm. After receiving his degree in plant science from Fresno State University, he worked on a large cotton farm in Corcoran, California, and learned two important things. First, he did not want to grow cotton, and second, he did not want work in the Central Valley. As soon as he could he moved home to Sonoma County and took a job as a foreman at Sonoma–Cutrer, where he was quickly promoted to vineyard manager.
During his 23-year career at Sonoma–Cutrer, Kirk oversaw more than 1,200 acres of estate vineyards, including the planting of the acclaimed Vine Hill and Owsley Ranch vineyards. Throughout this period, Kirk also helped found the Russian River Valley Winegrowers association, where he was a two-time president. Sonoma County named him “Agri-Business Person of the Year” in 1997.
While at Sonoma–Cutrer, Kirk became good friends with the winery’s founder, Brice Cutrer Jones. They discovered the Hallberg Ranch property in the mid-90s and coveted it until 1999, when at last Brice sold Sonoma–Cutrer and partnered with Kirk (and others) to acquire the land. When they founded Emeritus together, they did so with the goal of establishing the finest Pinot Noir vineyard in California.
As a vineyard manager, it is incredibly rare when you are given the perfect piece of land to plant a vineyard, and all of the resources necessary to do it exactly the way you know it should be done.
In developing Hallberg Ranch, Kirk and Brice took inspiration and wisdom from their friends in Burgundy. They were (and are still) aided by several members of Kirk’s old vineyard crew who followed him to Emeritus, and formed the core of our acclaimed 17-person, full-time vineyard team.
In 2007, Kirk began the transition to dry farming at Hallberg Ranch. The following year, Kirk began planting Pinot Hill, a smaller estate vineyard located in the Sebastopol Hills. Dry farming both vineyards established Emeritus as a viticultural leader. Today the two vineyards combined give Emeritus more than 140 acres, forming the largest dry-farmed Pinot Noir estate in Sonoma County and possibly in all of California. In acknowledgment of his pioneering work at Emeritus, Kirk was honored as the “Sonoma County Grower of the Year” by the Sonoma County Winegrowers association in 2017.
Kirk lives on Hallberg Ranch with his wife. He raises sheep and goats at his house, and runs the sheep in the vineyard to mow and fertilize. A firm believer in passing on his knowledge to future generations, Kirk avidly supports local 4-H clubs and wine country ag programs.