Tag syrah

California meets Washington with Jameson Fink

Skype Drinking with Jameson Fink

In the midst of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 Jameson Fink and I became friends. In October 2013, we were able to do a joint wine trip through Dry Creek Valley. We have other joint trips planned for this upcoming year. It’s one of the gifts of wine blogging — you can develop genuine friendships with people you might not have met otherwise.

In the midst of our tour of Dry Creek in 2013, Jameson suggested we find a way to collaborate. Ultimately, we decided to begin by sharing quick visions of our respective states. He’d select two wines from Washington. I’d choose two from California. We’d send them to each other, then via Skype taste, drink, and talk through the four wines.

Following is Jameson’s write-up from the experience. Over on his site, Wine Without Worry, you’ll find mine later today. Here’s my write-up over on Jameson’s site: http://jamesonfink.com/washington-meets-california-with-elaine-chukan-brown/


Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink, Dry Creek Valley, October 2013

Hi there! I can’t believe I’m talking over/invading Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews for the day. You might remember me from such adventures with Elaine as “Touring Dry Creek Valley with Jameson Fink”.

The Washington Wines

So what wines from Washington State would I send Elaine’s way? Well, I knew I wanted to send her a couple weird bottles. And by weird I mean distinct and unusual in the most satisfying of ways. So I contacted the folks at Whidbey Island Winery and they were nice enough to send each of us a couple bottles for consideration.

Ferry to Whidbey Island Winery

ferry ride to Whidbey Island Winery, photo by Jameson Fink

I definitely wanted Elaine to try something from the Puget Sound AVA. While the vast majority of grapes for vino in Washington come from east of the Cascade Mountains (think Walla Walla, Yakima, the Tri-Cities, etc), there’s some cool stuff happening much closer to Seattle. Therefore, a bottle of 2012 Siegerrebe was dispatched to California.

This Puget Sound white wine is intensely aromatic. Elaine commented, “I’m drinking it through my nose.” (Not literally. I was watching her via Skype so I can confirm this was just a figure of speech.) It’s light and refreshing, clocking in at a summertime porch-pounding compatible 11% alcohol. If you like the intense aromatics of Gewurztraminer and Moscato but without the oiliness and/or sweetness, get a bottle in your fridge, posthaste! And when you’re hungry, pair that Siegerrebe with anything full of veggies and herbs. Like fresh rolls. (But skip the peanut sauce.)

Whidbey Island Vineyards

Whidbey Island Vineyards

The accompanying red wine from Whidbey Island Winery was their 2011 Lemberger. This bottle, unlike the Siegerrebe, is filled with grapes brought in from Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley. Lemberger is a grape that, because of its unfortunate name, doesn’t get the love it deserves. WHERE IS THE LEMBERGER LOVE?!?

This wine reminds me of what would happen if a Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel swiped right on each other’s Tinder profiles. It’s fairly light on the palate but finishes with some brawny spiciness. This bottle would be really intriguing with less new oak as the Lemberger has enough going on to not need that flavor boost. I’d be curious to try it with neutral oak or perhaps nothing but steel. But if you find Zinfandel too monolithic, Lemberger awaits with a more gentle approach followed by an emptying out of the spice cabinet. Outstanding BBQ/outdoor grilling red.

The California Wines

So, what of the California wines sent my way? I was really excited to see (though not to type, jeez, what a long name, here goes) a bottle of 2011 Varner Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block. Phew! So thirsty. I’m a huge fan of the Santa Cruz Mountains, like Ridge Monte Bello (DUH!) and the wines of Mount Eden Vineyards, who make killer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and one of my all-time favorite Cabernet Sauvignons from anywhere IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Anyway, back to the Varner. I love California Chardonnay and I ain’t afraid of oak on it, either. What makes the Varner notable is its exquisite balance between fruit, oak, and acid. How balanced is it? It’s more balanced than a seal with a beach ball on the tip of its nose being cheered by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch snacking on popcorn with a judicious amount of organic butter and native yeast.

Or, as Elaine more elegantly put it, this Chardonnay has “rich flavor with so much graceful movement.” Can I get avian on you? Let me paraphrase what Elaine went on to say. The Varner, which develops in a most intriguing manner in the glass, is like a great blue heron with a weirdly elongated form that moves in ways you don’t expect it to. You can’t compare it to other birds because they are the only ones who move like that.

This wine gets a Clive Coats-ian “very fine indeed”.

Next up? The 2012 Wind Gap Syrah Sonoma Coast Majik Vineyard, which also, like the Varner, proved to be magical in the glass. Like a conjurer. It has a very minty, menthol-y, eucalyptus-y, pine needle-y nose and was very earthy yet extremely light on first sip(s). Its a wine that really needs significant time to open up. I gave it a double-decant about a ½ hour before we began but give it hours to properly plump up or stash it in your cellar for a few years. It certainly gained steam throughout the course of the evening.

What makes this Syrah distinct among all of the offerings from Wind Gap? Elaine deems this bottling from the Majik Vineyard to be “the most aromatic and a little strange.” And strange in the way I described weird earlier. As in intriguing! And not intriguing in a way where you are choking down tiny eye-dropper sips while looking for the exit door. More of a “yum I want more” or “I’m sticking around for this rollercoaster…OF FLAVOR” kind of intrigue. Elaine channeled Alaska when describing this wine, likening it to “tundra berries grown in peat”. (Note: Whole Foods does not carry these. I asked.)

Thanks to Elaine for the fascinating and fantastic wines and letting me blather on all over her blog which, like the Varner, is very fine indeed!!! I look forward to our next adventure via Skype. It won’t be a California/Washington exchange, but rather a theme based on a style of wine we both hold near and dear. Elaine, would you care to make the announcement? Drumroll, please….

OH HOW WE LOVE ROSÉ! That’s what we’ll exchange next time — we’ll each select a favorite still rosé, and a favorite sparkling to send to the other, then Skype.



Thank you to Pax Mahle for providing the Wind Gap sample.
Thank you to Jameson Fink for being awesome.


Drinking Small Production Rhone Wines: Rhone Rangers 2014

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.


Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

A Taste of Nagy Wines

Tasting Nagy Wines with Clarissa Nagy

Nagy Portfolio

click on image to enlarge

Focusing on two whites and two reds, Clarissa Nagy offers wines with a focus on fresh aromatics, clean fruit presentation, with tons of juiciness. Nagy’s touch as a winemaker is wines with a lot to give through a delicate presentation moving with a heart of strength.

While also making Syrah from Los Alamos, her Nagy Wines showcase the style of Santa Maria Valley — pretty and feminine floral fluit notes carrying an integral spice element on a body of juicy mineral length and easy, while present, tannin. The wines throughout are beautifully clean, and fine, with lovely concentration, expressive while retaining that delicate touch.

Giving crisp and fresh floral aromatics with a hint of wax, Nagy’s 2011 Pinot Blanc moves into crisp, fresh length through the palate. The wine offers a vibrant stimulation of citrus through the mid-palate rolling into touches of wax and white pepper on the finish, with a seaside mineral crunch throughout.

Nagy’s 2012 Viognier carries mixed floral notes coupled with a present and mouthwatering citrus element and mineral crunch that bring a dynamic balance to the wine.

The reds from Nagy are my favorite. The 2010 Pinot Noir gives nicely open, pretty aromatics with wild edges touched by sea sand. The palate carries a pretty balance of juiciness and length to light tannin traction, giving the integrated spice room to touch the mouth. The fruit here is clean and juicy.

I really enjoy Nagy’s 2010 Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard. The site produces incredibly tiny berries and low yield, with Nagy taking fruit from a hillside section. The combination leads to an inky, almost brooding Syrah lifted by Nagy’s utterly clean, fresh fruit focus. The wine hits the balance of lightness with genuine concentration on the nose brought into lots of juiciness and length on the palate. This Syrah is all red rose with mountain violet, dark rocks, and sea sand texture with a Shawarma core, that touch of bbq crackle spice that brings something to chew on. It’s a natural spice integral to the fruit itself.


The Nagy Wines website: http://nagywines.com/


Thank you to Clarissa Nagy.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Slurping Syrah with Le Metro: Vol IX in print and packaged!

Le Metro Vol IX

As some of you know, I illustrate the monthly collection for Le Metro: Wine. Underground. It’s a ton of fun. Aaron Epstein selects the wines, the theme, and the tagline, and then sends me the info and I get to draw up a piece to bring together yummy wine with a sense of wine education.

With Vol IX though I’m especially excited as the collection Aaron selected focuses on Syrah, with a six-pack of truly special wines. Several of them have gotten recent attention for their quality in both SF Chronicle, and The New York Times. It’s remarkable the Le Metro team was able to secure them. Great work!

Here’s an image of the illustration for Vol IX. Aaron has been kind enough to be sure to send them to me.

Le Metro Syrah Vol IX

Aaron informs me that Vol IX is available to order in small quantities, so if you’re interested, get your butt on over there!

Here’s the link: http://lemetrowine.com/purchase/

Thank you to Aaron Epstein. It’s a lot of fun to work on this with you every month!


I just finished a super hefty month of January work wise by getting in some freelance writing I couldn’t be more excited about. Keep an eye out here for article announcements once they’re in print.

Hope you’re all doing well!

Cowan Cellars Wines, the current portfolio

Tasting Cowan Cellars

Over lunch a couple weeks ago I was able to taste through the current portfolio of Cowan Cellars’ wines with Jim Cowan, and his wife Diane Arthur. The couple spend harvest and Fall in Sonoma, then travel East in winter to be closer to family.

Jim Cowan’s route to winemaking began circuitously via online friendships with wine lovers. Then in 2006, in the midst of a visit in Sonoma, Cowan discovered Steve Edmunds needed help making wine at Edmunds St John winery and found himself working the cellar alongside an icon of California wine. The experience helped Cowan realize he could begin making his own wine. With surprise connections to vineyards and fruit along the way, and help from friends in finding harvest housing, Jim and Diane credit synchronicity and their friendships for finding their way into wine.

Following are notes via drawing and text on the current portfolio.

Cowan Cellars 2013 Portfolioclick on illustration to enlarge

Cowan Cellars portfolio of wines carries crisp, clean fruit with floral under currents expressed in taut structural focus. Where the saigneé of Pinot Noir softens the mouth feel, it focuses the fresh herbal lift, and keeps the juicy length. It’s a crisp, fun, tasty focus for rosé. As the Sauvignon Blanc dances in layers of tropical forest, white grapefruit with citrus blossom, and faint back hints of crisp quince without sweetness, it spins up the juicy tension, giving a clean, lean focus white.

The two skin contact wines — a Ribolla Gialla from Russian River Valley’s Tanya Vineyard, and a Sauvignon Blanc named Isa, heralding from Lake County fruit — are both beautifully balanced giving the textural interest and lengthening sapidity that can come with macerated ferments, while lightening the touch enough to make the style approachable and pleasing. The flavors and aromatics in both lend themselves to savory Fall foods, and invite Thanksgiving considerations (especially on the Isa).

Turning to the reds, the Pinot Noir takes a red currant herbal element alongside notes of feral forest floor and hints of bay leaf to give a clean wine with nice tension. The two Syrah vintages we tasted generate the most excitement in me. I’m a sucker for a good Syrah, and these give genuine vintage contrast not only arising from age differences that show in young Syrah. The 2010 is nicely open and ready to drink now with blue violet notes throughout, a pleasing spritz of feral musk, and the deepening aspects of cooler Syrah tension — tobacco, touches of tar, and a chocolate finish. The 2011 comes in tighter right now, opening with air in the glass to dark fruit way in the finish after more lifted aspects of tobacco flower, jalapeno spice hints, cocoa powder and red dust accents. I’m digging the length.

Each of these wines were tasted alongside food progressing through stages of a meal. These wines were a pleasure to enjoy with food.


Thank you to Jim and Diane.

Cowan Cellars wines are available here: http://cowancellars.com/wines/

To read more on Jim Cowan’s own account of how Cowan Cellars got started: http://blogs.gangofpour.com/cowan-cellars-beginnings

More on Jim and Diane in a future post.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Bonny Doon Vineyards Bien Nacido Syrah, a vertical tasting

Tasting Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Bien Nacido Syrah

Randall Grahm and his Bonny Doon Vineyards are known for their help in instigating efforts to insert Syrah in the California psyche. The grape had been planted in the state in small quantities in the 1800s (with some of those old vines still growing in Mendocino), but was left largely ignored and unrooted until well into the 1980s. Grahm helped carry the banner for Rhone varieties along with a few other early founders. That said, still into the 1980s there was not much happening in California for Syrah, and to this day (as much as some of us love it), it’s still a rather underplanted grape when compared to the contemporary giants of Cabernet and Chardonnay–the two varieties that dominate vineyards in the Western state. Today, Grahm makes several vineyard designate Syrahs from different regions of California, one of my favorites of which is the Bien Nacido.

Bien Nacido is a vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley relied upon by some of the country’s top winemakers including (to name only a few) Manfred Krenkel, Maggie Harrison, Bob Lindquist, Jim Clendenen and others. Bien Nacido was established in 1973 by the Miller family, and to this day includes some of the original, own-rooted vines, a wealth of grape varieties, avocado trees, bio-dynamic practices, and a beautiful Santa Barbara County landscape.

This year, 2013, marks Bien Nacido’s 40th anniversary. The official commemorative event was held in August, with the entire year of 2013 standing out as recognition of two generation’s work by the Millers. With that in mind, Randall Grahm sent me a 5 vintage vertical of his Bien Nacido Vineyard X-Block Syrah to taste, and celebrate the site.

Congratulations to Bien Nacido, and the Miller family on your anniversary! Keep up the good work!

Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Bien Nacido, X-Block Syrah Vertical

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Syrah Vertical

click on image to enlarge

Bonny Doon’s Bien Nacido Vineyard’s Syrah comes from their X-Block, a portion of the vineyard biodynamically farmed, and split annually by Bob Lindquist of Qupe, and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards.

Though Grahm has been working with the X-Block Syrah since the mid-1980s, it was not until 2005 that he began bottling a vineyard designate for Bien Nacido, though there were a few earlier small bottlings as well. The bulk of the Bien Nacido fruit Grahm blends into his Le Cigare Volant, and his Syrah “Le Pousseur.” As Grahm explains, the wine from the X Block has gotten better as both he and the vineyard have gotten to know the fruit. He is quite excited about how the 2012 is showing, and says he’s happy so far with the 2013 as well.

The site offers a balance of cool climate Syrah structural characteristics with a bit more lush flavors. Bonny Doon’s rendition gives a silky mouthfeel, and nice balance on drying grip tannins to long juiciness, with the proportion shifting by vintage. The site consistently offers variations of the classic Syrah smoked meat note, as well as the more floral side of white pepper.

As Grahm describes, the X Block also highlights the Miller family’s, and the Bien Nacido team’s willingness to tend closely to the winemaker’s needs. They have worked with Grahm to modulate issues of vigor and ripeness variation, as well as develop biodynamic practices for the section. “The current regime is very easy to work with and really a pleasure.  They have been open to the idea of biodynamic farming, and really make it their business to give the customer precisely what he/she wants.”


Thank you to Randall Grahm.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com



Idlewild Wines 2012 Collection

Meeting Idlewild Wines

Idlewild Wines 2012 Collection

click on image to enlarge

With inspiration of Piemontese, husband and wife team Sam and Jessica Boone Bilbro launched Idlewild Wines with the 2012 vintage.

As they describe it, Sam and Jessica are both fans of texture and acidity. What is found in their wines is a marriage of delicacy and strength. As a portfolio, the 2012 wines express pretty floral aromatics with a driver of acidity and persistent tannin. Sam credits Jessica’s winemaking with a talent for holding onto delicacy, while Jessica points out the ways Sam pushes her to take her approach to the edge of what she’s used to.

An example can be seen in their Cortese (my favorite of these 2012 wines), an intensely uncommon grape for California vineyards. After locating the fruit, the couple decided to take a couple tons and just see how it developed. Wanting to make something more than the typical Cortese, Sam researched the grape’s treatment in Piedmont. Eventually, he located an obscure Italian text describing three winemakers using skin contact techniques in their approach, something Jessica hadn’t used in the same way on whites. They split the fruit into two lots, putting one on skins for 10 days, and the other straight to press. The straight to press lot brought acidity and drive, a linear presentation to the fruit, while the skin contact added texture and depth with ripe, almost musky flavors.

Sam and Emilia

Sam and Emilia checking fruit in Foxhill Vineyard, Mendocino, August 2013

Sam and I travel to the Mendocino, and Fox Hill Vineyard to walk through the fruit. In the Cortese parcel, he explains the difference in sun exposure between bunches. One side of the row receives more consistent light creating riper, darker skinned clusters that go into the skin contact lot to express the walnut and apricot flavors given by the sun. On the more shaded side, greener clusters go right to press for incredible juiciness. The blending of these two lots creates a showcase of Jessica’s expression of delicacy with depth.

Asking them to describe what they see in their own wines, Sam responds. “The drive is acidity, or tannin in the case of the Nebbiolo, but texture gives interest and a little tension.” In this description the pair find the sort of relationship they seek to express through Idlewild, something that can even be seen in the label’s name–a sense of contrast, two distinct, even opposing, pieces working together.

Jessica and Hudson

Jessica and Hudson talking Idlewild, June 2013

This sense of contrast with harmony can be seen in Jessica’s account of her own winemaking as well. “As much of a control freak as I am, I’m not as a winemaker. I make wine very much by feel.” The control comes in at the beginning–making sure tanks or barrels are clean, that the press has happened properly, but the rest occurs through what Jessica describes as listening. “When I stop, and really learn to listen to gut and intuition, it’s more real. The wine feels right.”


Thank you to Sam and Jessica. Nice to spend time with you Emilia and Hudson!

These wines were tasted through multiple visits over the course of the summer and fall.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Tasting California Syrah: a line up of 24 wines from across the state

The California Syrah Tasting

Syrah Characteristics

click on image to enlarge

Last week two of us got together and tasted through recent vintage small production Syrah from all over the state of California. The wines were selected based primarily on tastings done in the last year, and also a few through recommendations.

The purpose of the tasting was to gather leaner style, quality examples of Syrah from throughout the state but all primarily from smaller production producers.

The wines were not tasted blind as part of the purpose was to gain insight from vintages and regional information. The wines were tasted initially in order organized first by vintage, and then by alcohol level. They were then re-tasted in varying arrangements over the course of the two days following.

While many of these wines showed quite well, the stand out of the tasting for me was the Wind Gap 2009 Sonoma Coast. Others that showed especially well are marked below with an * asterisk.

Following are notes on the wines arranged by region.


One of the unique features of Santa Barbara County is the incredibly varied climate terrain of the region allowing for differing growing capacities within close proximity. From genuine cool climate along the coast to higher temperatures with large diurnal shift a bit inland, the region offers to a grape like Syrah a full range of potential styles.


The Santa Ynez appellation stretches all the way from the cool climate starkness of the Sta Rita Hills, through the proposed limestone banded Ballard Canyon, and into the warmer heights of the Happy Canyon AVA. As a result, Santa Ynez AVA showcases the fullest arch of growing conditions for the county.

Focus in Sta Rita Hills has tended towards Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, however some producers are also growing Syrah for a cool climate expression of the fruit. Unfortunately, no wines from this area were represented. However, Zotovich, and Samsara are two examples from the area worth checking out.


Ballard Canyon is not yet recognized as a distinct sub appellation of Santa Ynez but it offers characteristics that merit the designation. While Santa Ynez Valley carries the East-West valley orientation unique to the larger region, Ballard Canyon rests in a mountain formation that buds North from the mainline of the valley, producing distinct climate conditions from the rest of the valley–not quite as windy as Sta Rita Hills, not quite as hot as Happy Canyon. Ballard canyon is also a mix of intensely sandy sites and limestone bands not common to the rest of the area.

* Casa Dumetz, Tierra Alta Vineyard, 2011, 14.5%

The lighter style of Casa Dumetz’s 2011 Tierra Alta Syrah offers feral edges to a pretty floral focus. The wine is juicy and quaffable with just enough drying grip to accentuate its flavors. The core carries dark stone fruit, with purple exotic flowers and spice all touched by earthy accents and a hint of toast. This is a very juicy, wild while pretty example of Ballard Canyon Syrah.

* Goodland Wines, Ballard Canyon Red, 2011, 14.7%

The Goodland Wine’s Ballard Canyon Red comes in with big shoulders on a deft frame. This is a whole lot of wine without being heavy. It opens into intoxicating dark fruit refreshed by citrus zest accents and touches of cardamom, carrying leather and hints of diesel all on a body of smooth tannin with long line juiciness. The 2011 Ballard Canyon Red is primarily Syrah with just a touch of Grenache.


Not yet recognized as a certified AVA, Los Alamos stands circled by mountains North of the Santa Ynez Valley, and South of its sister Santa Maria Valley — the three broadly distinct zones of Santa Barbara County. Locals are working on achieving appellation approval for Los Alamos. The area is another of the cool zones of the county as the winds from Lompoc lower temperatures. It also hosts the most planted vineyard acreage of the county, many of them under smaller ownership, with bigger companies coming in more recently.

Martian Ranch Red Shift Syrah, 2011, 13.5%

Martian Ranch Red Shift brings together Syrah with just under 5% Viognier for a lifted opening to the wine. With very little SO2 addition, this wine also shows the slightly pert elements that can come from such an approach. The combination gives a bright red top note integrated into a light touch presentation of red fruit, with accents of cocoa powder and cracked pepper, and hints of greenery through a long juicy finish. This is a distinctive, fresh focus wine, with quirky edges of interest.

Fess Parker, Rodney’s Vineyard 2010, 14.9%

The Fess Parker Rodney’s Vineyard draws on all estate fruit. It comes in as the richest style of the tasting, showing perfumed aromatics with potpourri, baking spice, and a touch of smoke ash on a full polished frame. This is a well executed example of a ripe style wine, reaching towards an expression like Zinfandel.

Big Table Farm, White Hawk Vineyard, 2010, 15.1%

While housed in Willamette Valley, Big Table Farm sources their Syrah from the historic White Hawk Vineyard of Los Alamos. The 2010 carries a rich presentation of flavors giving blackberry with chocolate liquor poured on top rolling into cinnamon, touches of cocoa and some tobacco. Bramble comes through on the long finish. The tannin is velvety, picking up through the finish. This is a rich wine that relaxes as it opens.


At the Northern part of Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria generates a unique flavor profile, tending to generate more fruit presentation than its siblings to the south. One of the older planted areas of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria also offers pockets of older and even own rooted vines.

Ojai Vineyard, Solomon Hills Vineyard, 2008, 14.6%

Ojai Vineyard‘s Solomon Hills Syrah offers a restrained expression of a ripe style, giving lots of flavor with a central focus. The juicy red fruit here couples with olive, savory herb, and Italian sausage showing smooth tannin, and a touch of heat on the palate, through a long finish.


The Foothills wine country of California reaches from El Dorado County into Amador and Calaveras carrying mountain fruit and high country spice notes and lots of rocky minerality. The region has proven especially good for growing Rhone grapes, with wineries beginning to house themselves there in the region more recently.


Northern most of the three counties mentioned above, El Dorado county has a high concentration of Rhone variety vineyards featuring both red and white grapes. The area hosts the large diurnal shift that ripens fruit while holding acidity.

* La Clarine Farm, Sumu Kaw Vineyard, 2011, 12.4%

The lightest style wine of the tasting, La Clarine Farm‘s Sumu Kaw Vineyard brings a refreshing, lifted approach to the grape giving one of the more distinct wines in the line up. The wine showcases a carbonic lift with refreshing accents of dill, touches of jalapeno, hints of mandarin and mixed olive, dancing with red fruit. The wine is strange, intriguing, and refreshing with wild edges and a long finish.

Skinner, El Dorado, 2009, 14.8%

The not yet released 2009 Skinner El Dorado is a well made, well balanced wine that wants time, and air to open. Though initially closed, by day 2 the wine had opened into an expression of subdued fruit flavored by pine forest, black tea, and spice with a long finish showing a healthy tannin, acid balance, and lift. Both of the Skinner Syrahs noted here are wines made for people that appreciate deft work with oak integration. I hope to taste this wine again with more age.

Skinner, Stoney Creek Vineyard, El Dorado, 2009, 14.9%

The Stoney Creek Vineyard gives a slightly more earthy focus to the Skinner profile. Not yet released, this wine will continue to evolve with age, and wants air to open and integrate. The wine offers subdued red cherry and red fruit with pine, and tobacco, giving hints of juniper and spice accents. The wine is well balanced, and well made with polished tannin, and balancing acidity. Again, this style is made for people that appreciate fine work with oak integration. I hope to taste this wine with more age.


A cooler zone of the central valley, Lodi offers the rich sun exposure of its valley location with cooling influence from the Delta breezes. The sandy-silty soils that dominate the Mokelumne River sub-AVA, combined with the temperature range of the area consistently generate present while softened tannin in its reds. The attention in Lodi tends away from Syrah with only a few producers bringing specific attention to the variety. Fields Family, noted below, and Kidder Family Wines are two examples of Syrah from Lodi to keep an eye on.

Fields Family Wine, Estate, 2011, 14.2%

The Fields Family 2011 Syrah carries sun kissed red fruit with red floral accents that open into saffron, light smoke notes, and distinctive spice hinting towards bbq. There is a hint of sweetness to this fruit, but not too much. This is a restrained expression of ripe flavored fruit that has smooth tannin and a long finish, with well integrated acid and alcohol.


Napa Valley has only a recent history with Syrah, as the valley’s history has been rooted in Petite Sirah, and more recently Cabernet. However, the valley offers a unique range of growing conditions for the fruit from hillside to valley floor locations. The wines focused on for this tasting come from the cooler zones in the Southern portions of the valley.


* Jolie-Laide, Phoenix Ranch, 2011, 13.8%

Jolie-Laide comes in with a strong focused palate on good structure and a nicely executed wine. The wine offers delicate aromatics with red-violet fruit focus and a grilled Italian sausage core accented by hints of smoke. There are nicely smooth tannins throughout with a pleasing juicy balance. The flavors here have traction on the palate coupled with good movement.


The cool climate mountain appellation of Mt Veeder is influenced by the cooling temperatures and breezes coming up from Carneros, and the rustic qualities of the sub-appellation’s soil and elevation.

Lagier-Meredith, Mt Veeder, 2009, 14.3%

The mountain fruit of Lagier-Meredith give the leanest profile of the Syrahs tasted, with a pretty nose showing refreshing canteloupe elements, coming in with dark fruit, pine forest, olive tapenade, and cracked mixed pepper on the palate. There is nice tannin presence here moving into a short finish. This is a polite, and pretty Syrah with strength and quick focus.


At the Southern end of Napa Valley, Coombsville benefits from the cool winds blowing from the ocean across San Francisco and San Pablo Bays before hitting the mountains at the Eastern side of the sub-region. Thanks to the lower temperatures, the area supports slower ripening periods for an expression unique to the Valley.

Enfield Wine Co., Haynes Vineyard, 2010, 13.7%

A pleasing focus for Napa Valley Syrah, Enfield Wine Co generates a savory expression of the variety coming in with olive, and bramble through a body of rhubarb, hints of blackberry, and a surprising spice melange. The wine is full of mid palate aromatics showing off dried rose and violet, and a touch of bark on the finish. This is a juicy wine with a long finish.

* Enfield Wine Co., Haynes Vineyard, 2011, 12.6%

The 2011 vintage of Enfield Wine Co bring a sharper focus to this already well made wine showing off pencil point tannins coupled with nicely balanced juiciness. This is a wine that excites me with its savory components that spin through with floral and red fruit opening into blueberry, and hints of cocoa powder. The lean opening, uncurl into mid palate aromatics, and move into a long lightly metallic finish.


One of the largest countries of California, and the largest of the San Francisco Bay region, Sonoma County offers massive variation. With the market focus on Pinot Noir, the truth is many of the sites that might grow Syrah quite well instead grow its cool climate companion from Burgundy. Still, there is a range of quality Syrah from the area, and Rhone grapes do quite well through many of its districts.


Two Shepherds, Saralee’s Vineyard, 2011, 13.5%

Saralee’s Vineyard is known for its cool temperatures and fog influence generating structurally focused reds and juicy whites. In the overall line-up, the Two Shepherds’ Syrah most clearly shows the challenges for ripeness generated by the cooler vintage of 2011 with the aromas and flavors of the wine showing as less developed, or under-ripe overall. The aromatics are a touch volatile with hidden fruit expression, while the palate opens to blueberry and blueberry leaf with touches of brown sugar all in a delicate, acidity focused presentation.


One of the largest appellations within Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast has come with controversy over its size. More recently, however, the challenge has been met with the generation of sub-appellations more expressive of the genuine sub regionality of the AVA. Examples include “West of the West” AVAS such as Fort Ross-Seaview and a proposed West Sonoma Coast AVA.

Bodega Rancho, Que Syrah Vineyard, 2009, 12.4%

Located at the far Western edge of Sonoma Coast, the Que Syrah Vineyard offers a genuinely cool climate focus for Bodega Rancho opening with a tidal wave of super juicy fresh blackberry and blackberry pie including faint accents of baking spice, alongside touches of olive brine and bramble through a medium-long finish.

** Wind Gap, Sonoma Coast, 2009, 12.6%

The “hey baby” of the line-up, it was difficult to take notes on the Wind Gap 2009 Sonoma Coast. I wanted to just sit and drink it. It’s drinkability surpasses its flavor profile. The wine comes in with savory juicy olive notes accented by bark and forest spice, moving with blackberry bramble, cherry skin, and fresh oregano. The wine has beautiful flow into super clean violets on an ultra long finish. Wind Gap wins.

Anthill Farms, Peters Vineyard, 2009, 13.5%

Anthill Farms Peters Vineyard hints at carbonic elements with opening accents of red lipstick, lifting into olive tapenade on the nose, followed by a smooth palate presentation of blackberry and bramble, wild berry flower perfume, and spice. This wine carries a nicely focused palate followed by a short finish.

Baker Lane, Estate Vineyard, 2009, 13.6%

The 2009 Baker Lane showed poorly in the line-up, with the wine presenting as chunky, falling apart in the mouth after opening. There were characteristics of tomato leaf, and delicate floral notes, with cherry pie spice and apparent tannin. Having had this wine previously, I am willing to assume bottle variation is the culprit here.

* Anthill Farms, Campbell Ranch, 13.9%

Anthill Farms Campbell Ranch showcases fruit from the new Fort Ross-Seaview AVA giving violet and bramble focused aromas and flavors, accented by the same lipstick note of their Peters Vineyard, and touches of olive tapenade with spice. This is a well balanced, savory while pretty wine showing pretty top notes, a good tannin-juicy balance, and a long savory finish. Nice value here.

* Failla, Estate Vineyard, 2009, 13.9%

Also housed with the new Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, the Failla Estate Syrah showcases the strength of the Western Sonoma Coast character. The wine comes in with a lot of confidence without the puff ripeness of arrogance. A nicely subtle, well-balanced nose shows a touch of olive, mountain flowers, and forest floor, rolling into a big rocky palate with savory fruit, a touch of cigar, and a long spice finish. This is a wine that wants to age showing well executed structure of currently tight tannin.

* Arnot Roberts, Clary Ranch, 2010, 12.2%

Arnot Roberts draws on the restrained elements of a cool site in Clary Ranch and produces an alluring, slightly strange Syrah that wants a lot of air to integrate. This wine shows off the ingredients of Thanksgiving in the American Southwest — aromas of bramble and honey glaze ham with clove potpourri, moving into a palate of under ripe peppercorn, hatch chili, with ground black beans and a touch of sweet corn. Give this wine some time and it’ll pull you in.

Arnot Roberts, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, 2010, 12.5%

Griffin’s Lair proves a distinctly different site for Arnot Roberts Syrah. The nose offers aromas of clay and wet soil, with red cherry blossom and pine bark, moving into wet cherry tobacco and smoke on the palate through a long finish and present tannin. This is a lean focused wine carrying earthy flavors.

Bedrock Wine Co., Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, 2011, 14%

Bringing in 11% Viognier and using 60% whole cluster, Bedrock creates a savory expression of the Griffin’s Lair VIneyard. The wine offers floral aromatics of cherry tobacco, alongside the savory-sweet spice of Italian sausage. They move strong into the mouth, and relax through the mid palate into a juicy finish with plenty of tannin.

Other regions not represented and worth checking out include Mendocino and Santa Cruz Mountains. From Santa Cruz Mountain, Martin Ranch Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah is a stand out.


The following wines were given as samples: Ojai Vineyard, Anthill Farms, Skinner, Fess Parker, Big Table Farm, La Clarine Farm, Jolie-Laide, Two Shepherds, Bedrock Wine Co., Fields Family, Goodland Wine.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Visiting Wild Horse Valley, w Enfield and Olivia Brion

The Vineyard by Heron Lake, Wild Horse Valley

David Mahaffey

David Mahaffey, standing at 1300 ft in Wild Horse Valley

Between 1200 & 1400 ft elevation, only 3 1/2 miles East from downtown Napa (as the crow flies), grow 11 planted acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the rocky volcanic ground of Wild Horse Valley. The vines bud just above Heron Lake. At the last of the 1970s, John Newmeyer started 24 acres on Riesling and Gewurtztraminer. In 1980, David Mahaffey became partners with Newmeyer, working the vineyard to make its wine, also budding over the established vines to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Over years of working with the vineyard the pair slowly honed in on the healthiest portions, thus reducing the size to the current 11 acres. It is now also managed entirely through organic practices.

looking over the vineyard

looking into the Pinot Noir rows, above Heron Lake

Wild Horse Valley is an upland valley formation that isn’t clearly visible until the top of the range. From that vantage point, looking Northeast you can see a long scoop that comes out of the peak of the mountains. In 1988, Mahaffey applied for and successfully established the Wild Horse Valley AVA. Its boundaries ride the intersection of Napa and Solano Counties. What defines the appellation is volcanic ground chunked full of large rock, the diurnal shift of high elevation, and the cooling effect of the air moving East from the Bay and the Ocean. Mahaffey laughs as he tells me it’s also a migratory path for innumerable birds. The site has to be netted or all the fruit would go to feeding the North to South flight. Newmeyer’s and Mahaffey’s Heron Lake Vineyard ushers in the Western, and coolest portion of the appellation with the air coming up from Carneros through a 1000 ft chill-effect into the bowl at the Western side. Mahaffey explains too that several hundred meters away, just on the other side of Heron Lake, had been planted to Zinfandel in the late 1800s, those grapes brought back down the hill to blend into the wines of Napa Valley.

John Lockwood, David Mahaffey

John Lockwood and David Mahaffey checking out the Chardonnay

John Lockwood began working with Mahaffey in 2004, and credits that time as really establishing Lockwood’s commitment to wine. The two met by chance over a mutual interest in hand-built guitars. Lockwood built instruments for Ervin Somogyi in Oakland. Mahaffey was constructing his own guitar, and traveled to East Bay for advice from Somogyi, thus also meeting Lockwood. The two struck up conversation, and eventually Lockwood visited the Heron Lake Vineyard. That year he stepped into harvest with Mahaffey, living up in Wild Horse Valley to help him make wine in 2004, 05, and 06. The bug took Lockwood then to work for Littorai in 2007, into Argentina in 2008, and to cellar work full-time at Failla from 2008 until recently. In 2010, Lockwood and Mahaffey started talking about Lockwood beginning to make his own wine with some of the site’s Chardonnay. The plan fell through due to weather, but in 2011 Lockwood secured the fruit for his label, Enfield.

John Lockwood, David Mahaffey

talking through the history of the vineyard

Mahaffey bottles both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the site under his label, Olivia Brion. His winemaking methods depend on his own ingenuity. Mahaffey’s winery could be called gravity fed, as the vineyard is uphill from a flat spot where the wines start fermentation in bins under tent. Beneath the flat spot Mahaffey dug a small cave, large enough ultimately to hold 4000 cases, though he does not produce that much. The Chardonnay is gravity fed from the tent site to barrels in the cave below. The Pinot Noir moves sideways instead to a converted barrel room next door. Tasting the 2010 Chardonnay now two different times with Mahaffey, the wine offers the varied blessings of Chardonnay in triplicate–a floral lift subtly releases from the glass over a crisp midsection of nuttiness, and an underbelly of citrus oils. In the mouth the experience follows into juicy acidity, rich flavors, and a long lined finish. Mahaffey laughs as he tastes the wine with us. “In life, the ultimate goal is to find good, fast, and cheap, but you’re lucky if you can get two.” He’s being cheeky as he says it. “In wine, the hunt is for acidity, richness, and length.” His 2010 hits that intersection.


Miss Olivia, Olivia Brion’s namesake

Mahaffey hand tends the vineyard, walking through the vines a row at a time to track their progress, pull leaves, and break off unwanted tendrils or laterals. It’s an attention that Lockwood describes as basic to quality vineyards. Lockwood just opened his own label, Enfield Wine Co., the first release a 2010 Syrah from Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville, a site closely maintained by Fernando Delgado. Delgado manages Haynes Vineyard living on site to work with the vines daily. Lockwood explains that he selects his vineyard sites partially by who manages the location. Vineyard practices such as organics or biodynamics are valuable, he tells me, but the practice that makes the biggest difference is attention, an insight Lockwood first learned through Mahaffey.

John Lockwood

John Lockwood standing beside Heron Lake

This summer, Lockwood will release an Enfield 2011 Wild Horse Valley Chardonnay. It’s a wine that carries flavoral resemblance to Mahaffey’s 2010, with a leaner, more-acidity focus due to the cooler 2011 vintage. Thinking of it my mouth starts to water. I’ll be buying a bottle later today.

At the vineyard, we also taste through Mahaffey’s Pinot Noir–the 2010 in bottle, and then from barrel. It’s a wine that celebrates bright tension, and small berried fruit. The 2010 has just started to show orange peel and bergamot, a note Lockwood and Mahaffey agree is site signature, as it consistently shows up with a bit of age through vintages. The two start laughing as Lockwood tells me his dream is to get some Pinot from Mahaffey’s vineyard. The laughing comes from the joke that Mahaffey would have to die first. Mahaffey quickly turns the moment into a reflection of his trust for Lockwood. “It’s understood,” Mahaffey tells me, “that if I do suddenly go, John has to bottle the Pinot for me.”

Driving down from 1300 ft, looking over Coombsville

driving back down from 1300 ft, looking over Coombsville


Thank you to John Lockwood and David Mahaffey for bringing me to Heron Lake and your Wild Horse Valley Vineyard.

More to follow on both Enfield Wine Co, and Olivia Brion.

Uva Buena’s write-up on Enfield Wine Co.’s release: http://uvabuena.com/blog/?p=617

Enfield Wines are available here: http://www.enfieldwine.com/

For Olivia Brion Wines: http://www.oliviabrion.com/index.html

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Visiting Andrew Murray Wines

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.

Andrew Murray White Blend

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.

Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray

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.

Andrew Murray Syrahs

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.

his new Value Label E11EVEN

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.”

Andrew Murray

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.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.