Tasting with Andrew Murray
Andrew Murray began planting his own vineyards, and making wine early in his 20s. After high school he attended UC Berkeley for a year, but catching the wine bug left for a calendar of wine work in Australia. Upon his return, he earned a Bachelor’s in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis. With this experience, he began the Andrew Murray Vineyards within the Santa Ynez region of Santa Barbara County in partnership with his parents. The project would earn Murray wine accolades, but eventually lead too to him taking a shift in approach.
the Andrew Murray Rhone white blend–Roussanne and Grenache Blanc
Murray’s self-named label focuses entirely on Rhone varieties, keeping Syrah as its center. Murray explains that he enjoys “a true hillside paradigm.” In finding his original property, and as a guide for selecting current sources he appreciates a slope, touting his focus as “handcrafted wines from hillside vineyards.”
In 2006, Murray sold the family vineyard and shifted to sourcing fruit from locations through Santa Barbara County, and in Paso Robles. The change gave him the opportunity to expand his wine style in terms of site differences, while keeping the attention on Rhone wines. After working so seriously with his own vines, Murray has chosen sites based only on those he can partner with growers. He also contracts fruit by the acre to ensure the practice remains with farming and quality, rather than bulk.
Asking Murray about the apparent difficulty associated with selling Syrah, he makes clear he doesn’t worry. “My focus is on Syrah. It’s what I’m so passionate about, and I think it’s coming back in popularity.” Murray explains too that by keeping a Syrah focus, customers know what he’s offering. He’s avoided, then, any possible confusion over label intention, and hasn’t had the stereotypical difficulty with selling Syrah as a result. He admits though to recognizing some of the hardship.
“Syrah has perhaps had an identity crisis in the public eye.” He comments. “It’s such a chameleon grape. Syrah from Paso Robles, you have warm climate. Syrah from Los Alamos, you have cool climate.” The range of possibilities from Murray’s extended region alone explains too how he selects the sites he works with–he explores his passion with a clear center line and range simultaneously. Such possibility is one of the insights of Santa Barbara Wine Country, and the Central Coast.
Murray’s collection of reds–GSM, and Syrahs
Murray’s winemaking career includes overall shift and development of style. He’s reduced his use of new oak, as well as his use of SO2, applying it now only at bottling. He also no longer uses yeast nutrients, and lets his ferments start un-inoculated. “I’ve been slowly giving up control again.” Murray tells me. Where he began his winemaking with no SO2, and little intervention, he explains he then swung the other way becoming far more hands on for a time. Now, discussing SO2 as an example, he admits to only adding 15 ppm in 2012 after ML was complete, and not until bottling.
Murray’s shift he parallels to an overall change in the market. “The industry is going back to caveman winemaking,” he laughs. It’s clear though, Murray is not adverse to technology. Instead, his goal seems to be, as he put it, to give up control to allow the wine room, while at the same time using technology to accomplish things like grape sorting for quality. Murray’s interest currently is to bring only the best berries into his wine, keeping out broken stems (known as jacks) that could bring harsh flavors, even while allowing partial whole cluster in some ferments. “With beautiful intact grapes, you don’t have to do much.” He tells me smiling.
a new second label for Murray, This is E11EVEN Wines
The recent vintages of Andrew Murray wines are some of my favorite–they’ve become more subtle. The reds drink with integrity while also giving some of California’s best Syrah for its price–clean, focused, juicy presentations that show their site variation side by side. The Watch Hill Vineyard Syrah from the Los Alamos area, just outside the Santa Ynez AVA, rises to the top for me, with its cooler climate, hillside bramble fruit and prusciutto, olive flavors. We’re able to taste the 2009, and the 2011 together. He sends me home too with a small bottle of the 2010. But the Watch Hill seems to be a favorite for others as well. Later, when I go to find it at his tasting room, the wine has sold out. I’m grateful I got to drink it with Murray.
One of the wonders to me of Santa Barbara County wine country is the number of winemakers still in their 40s with over 20 years of winemaking experience. It’s an impressive concentration of ability. Murray is one such example. Having developed his own label and honed his understanding of his Rhone project, he just started a brand new passion project focused on having fun making value wines. The result is the This is E11EVEN Wines label, playing on the “Turn it up to Eleven” joke of the movie, This is Spinal Tap. The wines are even brilliantly packaged in an amp printed case box, which when stacked create an implied wall of sound. These wines come in at less than $20, giving a fun, juicy focus on flavor and zip. He’s playing with what he wants to make in the E11EVEN series, calling them “rebelliously blended wines.”
I ask Murray finally about his home, and why he chose to develop Rhone wines there in Santa Ynez. Murray responds, “Santa Ynez is a natural Rhone zone. It’s elevated hillsides, uplifted mesa, and deep water.” He falls into intimacy with the region as he speaks. “Plus, the prevailing wind. That moment when the wind switches back towards the water,” he says,” you always get rain. It allows the Syrah to ripen, but at a slowed down pace. You pick Syrah here from late September, well into November depending on vintage.”
Thank you to Andrew Murray. Thank you to Kristin Murray.
Thank you to Sao Anash, and Lacey Fussel.
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