Santa Barbara County
This is our 32nd vintage of syrah! So, is this 2014 Syrah Santa Barbara County just like the previous vintages? Well, no, and that’s been the fabulous thing about remaining a tiny, crafty winery.
Instead of focusing on growing the size of the operation we have focused on growing the craft. Lots of talk, lots of tasting, and plenty of experimentation over the years has brought us to this point.
And the point is that in 2014 we produced a particularly accessible, delicious wine. More than ever we are focused on bringing out syrah’s peppery, food friendly personality by avoiding harvesting over-ripe grapes. And in the winery we’ve modified our fermentation and aging regime to bring out the natural exuberance of this fascinating grape varietal. The 2014 is comprised of mostly cool climate syrah grapes from vineyards stretching from Santa Maria to Lompoc in northern Santa Barbara County. While warmer sites produce easygoing if thick versions of the varietal, cooler sites preserve the lively, exotic floral and spicy side of syrah—and that’s the style that we like to drink and share with friends.
The 2014 is comprised of 53% Sebastiano Syrah, 22% Roll Ranch Syrah, 6% White Hawk Syrah, 5% Bien Nacido Syrah, and 14% Sebastiano Grenache. The wine was fermented in small open topped fermenters using 25% whole clusters and was pressed off into mostly older French oak barrels for 12 months of aging. Bottled in November of 2015, this beauty is already showing off its stuff.
Syrah has been our flagship wine since 1983 when our vines here produced their first crop. My inspiration for planting this once obscure varietal came from tasting the wines imported from the northern Rhone valley in France by Kermit Lynch. While southern Rhone wines are blends with Grenache predominating, northern Rhone reds are usually 100% syrah, and it was that peppery, spicy character of the varietal that drove me to distraction.
While the first efforts of ours were met with only a little interest, there was a moment a few years later, after the famous wine writer Robert Parker shared his enthusiasm for the wines of the Rhone, that there was real interest in syrah from California (and Australia). That interest abruptly evaporated in 2008 with the coming of the great recession, huge overplanting in California, and changing consumer tastes—the movie “Sideways” introduced the idea that a lighter bodied red wine (pinot noir) could be a worthy substitute for stolid cabernet sauvignon. It didn’t help that most California syrahs of the day were more like sumo wrestlers—big and fat.
I’ll admit I was influenced by the attitudes of that time, it seemed as though everyone wanted to pick ever riper grapes. Though I knew I was doing the right thing, it always felt a little strange being the first one harvesting grapes in a vineyard (I kept thinking: where was everyone else?)—though I was never nutty enough to think that I should wait even longer until the grapes turned to raisins. But still, being an early harvester in the day meant we made our share of 15% alcohol wines, and yes, I am a bit uncomfortable with them even though they are aging along quite well. Why?
Well, I’ve become more comfortable with the idea that delicacy and finesse are more important traits than richness and concentration. The essence of syrah is an ethereal spicy pepperiness, and that’s lost if the grapes are grown in a hot climate or if the grapes are picked over-ripe. I think the current resurgence of interest in syrah has come because instead of producing nice, lush red wines from the varietal, we are now making vineyard specific expressions that showcase the true character of syrah.
Blend: 100% Syrah | Alc: 13.5% | Vinification: New French Oak | Barrel Aging: Months | Total Production: 1429 cases
Antonio Galloni’s Vinous
“The 2014 Syrah (Santa Barbara County) is a superb appellation-level wine from Oaji. Black pepper, lavender, menthol, licorice, cloves and sage abound in a deep, fleshy wine bursting at the seams with character and personality. Expressive blue and purplish-hued fruits and grippy tannins leave a lasting impression.” – AG 92 Points
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
“Possessing lots of cool climate characteristics in its peppery, blackberry, violets and mineral-laced aromas and flavors, the 2014 Syrah Santa Barbara is fresh, elegant and medium-bodied on the palate, with nicely integrated acidity and fine tannin. It’s a classy, easy drinking Syrah that has real character.” – JD