I have always believed that wines are made in the vineyard, and that we winemakers are simply stewards of the vineyard. It’s all about soil and climate, or as the French would say, ‘terroir’.
I sought vineyards in a variety of temperate ranges that would enable me to produce both unique single-vineyard Syrah, as well as Syrah to use in creating provocative blends.
In the cooler climes, I selected the Watch Hill Vineyard that lies in the cool corridor of Los Alamos. These grapes are typically lower in potential alcohol content, higher in acidity, and as a result can take longer to reach their potential and of course last longer in the bottle. Producing flavors of black olive, red cherries, crushed raspberries, violet floral notes, white pepper, and that earthy essence that smacks of the forest floor, this wine is reminiscent of authentic French Syrah. I am proud to craft these wines into efforts that resemble my favorites from Côte-Rôtie.
Moving to the warmer climes, I’ve fallen for the McGinley Vineyard in the Happy Canyon region of the Santa Ynez Valley. Further from the ocean, these grapes baste in warm days and comparatively warmer nights. They are spared the cooling and moderating influence of the pacific breezes and the blankets of heavy fog that shroud the coastal vineyards much of the day. The result is a bold Syrah with bright flavors; the earthiness is ripened right out of the purple gems. Black pepper, plumy, blueberry, or dried fruit are apt descriptors of the distinctive Australian-New World tone infused in these powerful little globes.
And somewhere in-between is our middle-child; not the troubled middle-child, but the middle-child who makes peace with his intemperate siblings. We buy these not-too-cool/not-too-warm grapes from the Thompson Vineyard and the Stolpman Vineyard. They walk the delicate political line between France and Australia and produce perfectly distinctive single-vineyard Syrah bottlings.
Indulging my inner mad-scientist, I’ve selected a few outliers as well. I searched and searched for a compelling vineyard outside of Santa Barbara County, and finally discovered Terra Bella Vineyard in Paso Robles. Nestled on steep, chalky soils on the west side of Paso Robles, these vines yield an Australian Shiraz-style grape with a profound hedonistic flavor. The warm days and cool Paso Robles nights translate to a rich lushness with a perceived sweetness from the ultra-ripe tannins. The cool nights and high calcareous content of the soil deliver wines with high ripeness, balanced by a lower pH, which allows the wine to maintain a sense of “freshness” in spite of its higher alcohol and extract. The Syrah from Terra Bella Vineyard is often best on its own or with full-flavored fare, rather than with more delicate meal choices.
I experiment with at least one new vineyard source per year right now, most of which end up as a single-vineyard wine only once, or never at all. These vines typically produce quality blending grapes, but for our single-vineyard bottlings, we’re looking for truly unique characteristics – something inimitable.