Syrah and Aloha, may not be things you think of together, but think about it. There is a sense of generosity in a Syrah. It tends to be more laid back than the Cabs, and it manages to make itself at home, where ever it goes. A bit of a chameleon, fitting in and adapting to soils and climates. It’s easy-going.
Like Ocean waves softly folding on themselves and lapping the shore, Syrah makes you want to close your eyes (go ahead, do it now) relax and take it all in.
Walla Walla Wine Month
Walla Walla is the home of this wine. L’Ecole No. 41 and their estate vineyards lie within the Walla Walla AVA. If you have never been to Walla Walla, it is a place to put on your list for travel when you are able. You don’t drive through Walla Walla on your way to anywhere, you have to set out to go there.
Located in the southeast part of Washington State, the AVA actually straddles the border to Oregon with 57% of the AVA in Washington and the remaining 43% in Oregon.
The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance established Walla Walla Wine Month in 2020. They chose the month because it was right between “Taste Washington Wine Month” in March and Oregon Wine Month in May. As they straddle the state lines, the month in between seemed appropriate.
It’s also the month of their annual Spring Kickoff Weekend when all the spring wine releases come out.
With the pandemic, they did have a wrench thrown in the works and have worked to make this an online celebration! You can visit the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to learn more! Follow the hashtags #WallaWallaWineMonth or #WallaWallaWine to see what they are up to!
Earth Month and sustainability at L’Ecole No. 41
Not only is it Walla Walla Wine Month, but it is Earth Month, with Earth Day itself landing on April 22nd. We have been highlighting Earth Friendly wines this month and with our wine today we get to continue.
I recently had a chance to sit down (via Zoom) with a collection of wine writers as well as part of the team at L’Ecole No. 41. Constance Savage the General Manager and COO spoke to us about L’Ecole and sustainability.
L’Ecole No. 41 has long been a leader in sustainable winegrowing, but you might not have known this. It’s not something they advertised or shouted from the rooftops, you see, it was just the common-sense way that they farmed. It was second nature, they didn’t think about it. Their Seven Hill Vineyard was converted to sustainable and the Ferguson Vineyard with its first planting in 2008 was planted as a sustainable vineyard.
Constance mentions Sadie the viticulturist at the SeVein vineyard development where the estate’s Ferguson vineyard is located, whose philosophy is that she and her team should be able to go home after work and walk straight to the dinner table to eat. They should not have to worry about exposing their family to chemicals on their skin or clothing.
Sadie is very protective of her crew, looking out for their health and well-being in the vineyard. Sadie, by the way, just receive the Erick Hanson Memorial Winegrape Grower of the Year Award “for demonstrated viticultural skills that provide impact in the vineyard and in the bottle.”
They are not organic. Organic agriculture allows the use of larger quantities of copper and sulfur that they do not want to use in their vineyards.
On to some of the sustainable methods they employ!
They are salmon safe, which influences what they feel safe putting into the vineyards. Salmon safe deals with what is in any water runoff from the vineyard or that could soak into the undergrown water. This all wants to be safe for the environment.
They utilize compost and compost teas in the vineyard to promote healthy mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae is a fungus that works symbiotically with the roots of the vine helping it to take in additional moisture and nutrients. This helps prevent water stress, which is an issue in the dry climate of Walla Walla.
Sap flow sensors
Speaking of water. Marcus the L’Ecole No. 41 winemaker mentions the Fruition Sciences sap flow sensors. They have one of these in each vineyard which measures the transpiration in the plant. This is continually monitoring the vineyard and communicating the information to the vineyard manager. This allows them to water appropriately and not wastewater, as well as looking out for the well-being of the vines.
Another way that they stay low impact on the environment is with the use of falcons between veraison and harvest. Birds especially the starlings in the area can wreak havoc on a vineyard, gobbling up the fresh ripe berries. Many in the region resort to air cannons, which fire periodically making a loud noise (like a cannon) to scare the birds away. Others turn to squawk boxes that play the sounds of birds of prey and birds in distress to deter birds from landing and feasting. These deterrents sadly make for a really unpleasant vineyard experience.
At L’Ecole they hire a falconer to come in every few days. Just the sight of a bird of prey is enough to scare away smaller birds.
On to the wine…
2018 L’Ecole No. 41 Syrah Estate Seven Hills Vineyard
Marcus refers to 2018 as a unicorn vintage. Everything was just right. The weather was right so that there was low disease pressure and they had the luxury of long hangtime into October.
This Syrah was picked over 2 days in September from 3 different blocks in the Seven Hills vineyard. Fermented in 1.5-ton fermenters with 2 punch downs each day it saw no pumping until it went into barrel. This is important because it is gentle on the wine.
They did 20% whole cluster in the ferment. What does that really mean? Well, 20% of the fruit did not get destemmed and they put the whole clusters in at the bottom of the fermenter. This gives structure to the wine and adds tannins. It also helps to enhance the color. Marcus had been part of a study on stem inclusion and they found the sweet spot to be at 20-30%.
Stem inclusion can naturally soften acids, build complexity and improve color stability.
*This wine was received as a media sample. No additional compensation was received. All opinions, as always, are our own.
Syrah in Washington State
A little nugget from L’Ecole No. 41 on Syrah from their “Schooled in Wine” program.
HISTORY: Syrah was first planted in Washington State in 1986 by Mike Sauer on 3 acres at Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. At the time, most growers believed that Rhone varietals would not thrive in Washington’s cold winters. It was not until the vines survived the severe winter of 1996 that the state began to embrace Syrah. By 1999, there were 1,500 acres of Syrah and now it’s the third-most planted red wine varietal in the state behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Today there are more than 4,565 acres/1,847 hectares planted in the Columbia Valley.
Well, if you have visited us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles before, you will know that we have a deep love for Red Willow Vineyard and a great respect for Industry legend Mike Sauer. Here, have a gander at the beautiful chapel (like the one at Hermitage) on the hill of Syrah at Red Willow Vineyard.
So wait? What does this Syrah taste like?
My first note with this Syrah was that it was generous. Generous but in an elegant way. You find notes of blackberry, currant, and black plum with notes of spices like nutmeg with bits of green olive tapenade and savory herbs. There are spicy floral notes of lavender as well as the tell-tale cedar character that is a Seven Hills Vineyard marker. This is a savory wine.
It has structured tannins and intense flavors and aromas. This is a wine that you can enjoy right now, but it will evolve and get better over the next 10 to 15 years.
The wine has great acidity for food pairing. Constance suggested pairing it with goat! Marcus mentioned a lentil or bean stew for vegetarians as well as barbeque. We ran with that in a slightly different direction.
Earth Month Pairing for the 2018 Seven Hills Syrah
For our Earth Month L’Ecole No. 41 pairings with their 2018 Walla Walla Syrah, we channeled the Aloha spirit.
We wanted to support local restaurants, so we picked up Laulau from a new local Hawaiian spot, called Island Flavor. (They have 3 Las Vegas Locations and the one in our neighborhood just opened). We lucked out that the Friday lunch special was
Laulau with Kalua Pig Cabbage served with Steam Rice, mac salad, lomi salmon & haupia.
Okay for all you haoles (non-Hawaiians) out there, Laulau is fatty pork and salted butterfish wrapped in taro leaves. This gets steamed and is moist and delicious. And yes, you eat the leaves too. Ours came with Kalua pig (this is the traditional Hawaiian style roasted pig, with cabbage, rice, lomi lomi salmon (which is like salmon poke). Instead of the mac salad (macaroni salad), we got sautéed vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, carrots onions, yum).
We finished with Haupia. Haupia is a coconut milk dessert. Ours was creamy and delicious. When I was a kid, I was not so fond of haupia, I thought of it as Knox Blox (remember those) made with coconut milk. Island Flavors haupia was much better than the stuff I remember from childhood out in Nanakuli.
We didn’t do anything fancy, we just served out of the Styrofoam containers, poured a glass, and enjoyed. (Sorry planet, about the containers, we really have to find a way to make recyclable packaging more affordable and accessible for small restaurants!)
The Syrah was brilliant with the Laulau! The fatty pork and its salt softened the Syrah pulling out its fruit notes.
We also ordered their Avocado Fried (Avocado, fried, chipotle aioli, sweet tamari.) Sooo ‘ono! (so delicious).
So share the aloha, support a local restaurant, and celebrate Earth Month and Walla Walla Wine month with a great wine from L’Ecole No. 41.
Sources Resources and further reading
More on L’Ecole No. 41 from Crushed Grape Chronicles
For more on L’Ecole No. 41 you can visit their website https://www.lecole.com/
Or read some of the other pieces we have written on the winery and their wines.
- Cabernet Franc-Merlot a limited rare gem from L’Ecole No. 41 in Walla Walla Washington
- Steak and chocolate – The best way to enjoy a L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Sauvignon
- L’Ecole No. 41 2017 Merlot with Dinner and a Unique Dessert
- Valentine’s Day – Spoil yourself and maybe someone else with 3 delicious pairing menus, 1 for every palate and a L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.