15 Jul Mark Horvath, Crawford Family Wines on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah
Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 6
This Episode of the Seminar takes us West toward the coast to the chilly area of Sta. Rita Hills. Winemaker, Mark Horvath speaks about his Sta. Rita Hills Syrah from Zotovich Vineyard.
Crawford Family Wines
Crawford Family Wines produces small lots of Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah in the “garagiste” style of winemaking all from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. They pull from vineyards like Babcock, Bentrock, Radian, Rita’s Crown and Zotovich. They recently started a Rhone program from the Ballard Canyon appellation, but today we are diving into their Sta. Rita Hills Syrah. While working in Sonoma, Mark took UC Davis extension classes which introduced him to a group of energetic and enthusiastic Santa Barbara Winemakers. An opportunity arose at Babcock and Mark joined as Assistant Winemaker. While there he met Kenneth “Joey” Gummere and the two formed Kenneth-Crawford Wines. They produced wines together for 10 years. Mark and his wife Wendy now have Crawford Family Wines (read the transcript or watch the video to find out more about the name)
Sta. Rita Hills Syrah
When you hear Sta. Rita Hills you usually think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This AVA is cool climate and these Burgundian grapes do well here, but so does Syrah. Most of the area is planted to Pinot Noir (2100 acres) or Chardonnay (500 acres) with the remaining planted 140 acres divided between such varieties as Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Syrah.
Syrah here buds early and harvests late, so there is a lot of hang time. Mark speaks of March bud break and November or December Harvests. This allows for elegant Syrahs with bright acidity.
Crawford Family Wines has a tasting room in Buellton in the Zaca Creek Industrial Park at 92 Second Street Suites G & H. They are open Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm and by appointment the remainder of the week. Visit their website at http://www.crawfordfamilywines.com/ or give them a call at 805.698.3889.
Be sure to try to get to the next seminar! The Santa Barbara Vintners will have one during the Celebration of Harvest Festival, which happens October 7-10. Here’s a link to more information. http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/
Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 6: Mark Horvath on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah
Wendy Thies Sell: Okay. “Go west young man!” they said and so west we shall go, to the Sta. Rita Hills. Mark Horvath of Crawford Family Wines makes small lots of wine, focusing on fruit from the Sta. Rita Hills. He sourced his Syrah for this wine from Zotovich Vineyard, with it’s deep sandy soils on the 246 corridor between Buellton and Lompoc. The fruit here ripened slowly in the cool foggy climate. Mark, tell us about this wine and why you are so passionate about Sta. Rita Hills.
Mark Horvath: Sure. First of all, thanks for coming. I appreciate everybody being here, thanks for inviting me. I’m really proud to represent the Sta. Rita Hills up here today. I moved here and started making wine here in 1998. No one was really making Syrah from the Sta. Rita Hills then. There were a few isolated plantings. I was working for Bryan Babcock at the time and we had a section of Syrah that he really hated. He never wanted to put much effort into it, he just didn’t feel like it was the right place. But every year we made the wine, I was struck by how interesting it was, how it held onto it’s acidity. We’ve been talking about how in these cool climates Syrah really hangs on to it’s acidity and there was a freshness and a vibrancy about that wine. It would be big and rich on the one hand but then have this tremendous backbone of acidity that would keep it fresh and bright. It was very peppery, it was very spicy, it was not his cup of tea, but for me it really ignited this curiosity. I had a project for a number of years called Kenneth Crawford Wines that some of you may remember, and our goal out the gate was, we always knew we would make some Pinot and some Chardonnay and some other things from the area, but our goal out the gate was to make some Sta. Rita Hills Syrah, and as much of it as we could. At the time there was even a bit of resistance, in the Sta. Rita Hills to us championing Syrah, because the focus of the area at the time, trying to establish itself in the marketplace was very specific to Pinot and Chardonnay. We really felt like we were bucking the trend, by promoting Syrah, but we were convinced that Syrah in the Sta. Rita Hills, in that climate, was special and unique and worthy of that attention. So I’ve been making Syrah from the area for a very long time. I don’t think I’m as brave as Scott. You’re drinking the youngest wine here is mine. Partly purposeful, partly the dynamics of a very small winery, in needing to get wine out into the market. I bring the fruit in, it cold soaks for a few days, it is then inoculated and spends a good 14, 15 days during fermentation, pressed off, I use only neutral barrels for this wine, because again, like these other guys, I really want to let the fruit shine through. I want you to smell and taste Sta. Rita Hills fruit. I agree, I’ve made wine from fruit from Ballard Canyon from the Los Alamos area, they are all excellent Syrah producing areas. What I love about the Sta. Rita Hills is the really dark earthy qualities we get in the Sta. Rita Hills, that tar and creosote, maybe fresh tobacco leaf, that kind of thing that comes out of the wines. But I’m really most struck by the structure of the wines from the area. That sort of quivering tension we get between rich ripe fruit and striking acidity and a bit of minerality that we get in the core of that wine. That’s what I love about the Sta. Rita Hills. There it is.
WTS: Mark also produces Pinot Noir. Can you compare and contrast, producing Syrah with Pinot? What are the differences for you?
Mark Horvath: Well, comparing and contrasting Syrah and Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills in particular, is really interesting because I think Pinot Noir has a lot of the same characteristics in the Sta. Rita Hills that Syrah has in that, it is such a cool and challenging area to grow grapes in. Same thing happens with Pinot Noir, I think Sta. Rita Hills is rather famous for making somewhat dark, rich, but definitely spicy Pinot Noir. Our Pinots are known for being on the spicy side, and I think that’s very distinctive about the area. Syrahs are the same way. I think there’s a lot of sandy soil. You know Zotovich Vineyard is a really interesting vineyard in the fact that it’s not a very interesting vineyard to look at. It’s a very flat, very simple deep sandy vineyard, and yet the fruit that comes out of there is just extraordinary. You know, I source from these really dramatic hillsides in a lot of different areas in the Sta. Rita Hills that are really amazing to look at and as a winemaker, you stand there and go “Wow, this is going to make something interesting, I mean, look at this soil, look at this aspect, and the wines are awesome. Then you go over to Zotovich and you stand there and it’s like “Hmm.” , you know, I hope this does what I think it’s going to do, and it does every time. It’s really interesting and unique. I think its…Larry touched on it, there’s all this sand on the surface and it is like beach sand at Zotovich, it’s probably 12 to 15 inches of just beach sand. But then below that you’ve got all this ancient seabed, you’ve got sedimentary rock, you’ve got all this really interesting stuff, that I think the vines really dig deep for. And it’s what ends up making the wines so unique from there. I think the Sta. Rita Hills has this great, I use the word “tension” and probably too much, but I just feel like between ripe rich fruit and vibrant fresh acidity, both the Pinot Noirs and the Syrahs have that same characteristic, obviously different flavors and aromas, but that structure, that tension, that freshness in the wines, I think holds through whether it’s Pinot, Chardonnay as a matter of fact as well and Syrah. I think the area is known for that.
WTS: Can you tell us where the name Crawford Family comes from?
Mark Horvath: So my middle name is Crawford. My first project with “Kenneth Crawford”, it was our middle names, it was better than Mark and Joey’s wine. That just did not have the right ring. I told my dad early on “Horvath is not going on a label, it just doesn’t work for a wine label.” I had to deal with Horvath my entire youth and so I wasn’t going to put it on a label. It’s also my Mom’s maiden name and my Mom was instrumental when we moved here in helping finance a young winery and so it’s sort of an homage to Mom as well. So, yeah, Crawford is my middle name.
WTS: Thank you for sharing, I didn’t know that. And so Crawford Family Wines tasting room is in Buellton.
Mark Horvath: That’s it! Right around the corner, right by Pea Soup Andersen. I use a little of the PSA yeast as a matter of fact. It’s been known to float around my winery too.
WTS: His lovely wife Wendy, gotta love a Wendy, she is at the tasting room today.
Mark Horvath: Yep, she’s there manning the fort.
WTS: Thank you Mark.
Mark Horvath: Thank you.