Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 1 – Wendy Thies Sell and Peter Stolpman
The Wine Seminar in Santa Barbara during their Vintners Weekend is always a highlight of the weekend for wine geeks. It is an hour and a half where you are able listen to Vintners, Growers, and Winemakers from the Santa Barbara Region.
Wendy Thies Sell
This year the Wine Seminar was on Santa Barbara Syrah and was moderated by Wendy Thies Sell. Wendy is a household name in Santa Barbara. The Wisconsin native moved to Santa Barbara in 1995 to anchor the morning and noon newscasts at the CBS affiliate KCOY, moving on to co-anchor the NBC affiliates KSBY evening news casts until 2008. She is a well-known food and wine columnist covering much of the Central Coast. She brought a wealth of information as moderator of this seminar.
Wendy started the day with a little history on Syrah in Santa Barbara County. She provides some fascinating facts and you can read the full transcript at the end of the blog as well as watch the video of this segment of the seminar. Wendy sites Bob Lindquist as the first to make Syrah in Santa Barbara in 1982 and said he bought grapes from Gary Eberle at Estrella River in Paso Robles. She also talked about Zaca Mesa’s famous “Black Bear Block”. Later Peter Stolpman referenced this block saying that cuttings of the Estrella River clone from the Black Bear Block created the Original planting of Syrah in Ballard Canyon on the Stolpman Vineyard. So…I thought maybe we should look into this Estrella River clone and the Black Bear Block at Zaca Mesa.
The Estrella River Clone
Gary Eberle planted Syrah on the Central Coast back in 1977 at what was then called Estrella River Winery and is now Meridian Vineyards. These were suitcase cuttings that Gary brought in from Chapoutier in Hermitage, and they became known as the Estrella River Clone. Sadly those original Syrah vines in Paso have since been pulled out.
The Estrella River clone of Syrah (from Hermitage) is classified a Sirene clone. It produces tiny yields and wonderful fruit. Nurseries, after WWII refined Syrah clones to produce greater yields, these are the numbered clones. The Sirene clones are the older pure breed of Syrah.
The Estrella River clone is known to have berry and jammy fruit characteristics.
The Black Bear Block Syrah
The Black Bear Block at Zaca Mesa is planted from cuttings provided by Gary Eberle, back in 1979.
The name comes from the fact that there are lots of Black Bears around this part of the Zaca Mesa Vineyard. This is a 3 ½ acre block and the cuttings here came early on from Gary Eberle, (he got them in 1977 and Zaca Mesa got cuttings in ’79). As Stolpman got his cuttings directly from this block, they are 2nd generation and they remained clean of the virus’ and funk that can often come with later generations cuttings.
After Peter gave us a bit of background on Ballard Canyon and their dedication to Syrah (they are the ONLY AVA dedicated to Syrah with over 60% of the vines in this AVA being Syrah), he spoke about this wine. They work to finesse this wine, which is dry farmed, and made from free run juice, natively fermented in concrete. For the past few years they have been backing off of new French oak, as well as additives and filtration. Concrete fermenters are becoming more and more widely used and I thought this was a good time to do a little more research on their use.
To start with, concrete fermenters are not made of wood, so you don’t have that added woody flavor or the additional tannins from the oak.
Concrete fermenters are also good for keeping the fermenting wine at a stable temperature. Of course fermentation releases heat, so a vessel that keeps the wine from raising or lowering its temperature quickly is helpful. This is gentler on the wine.
Proponents of Concrete also site mouth feel as one of the major benefits. The wines mouthfeel is cleaner and fresher without the addition of oak.
Many of the new concrete fermenters that you see are concrete eggs (like this one at Bridlewood).
These are egg shaped and much smaller than the fermenters that Stolpman is using. These smaller fermenters are curved and closed and “incubate” the wine. People speak to the egg shape as being a “Natural vortex”. The eggs are shaped so that as the gasses from fermentation are released they are forced to the narrow opening at the top, this keeps the wine moving, while you might not see it. The lees don’t settle, they stay floating. Or…you can flip your egg making the small base perfect for collecting sediment.The fermenters at Stolpman are larger, square and have an open top for punch downs.
The concrete, because it is porous allows for gradual oxidation. This is similar to the oxidation that you get in oak barrels, but you don’t get the oakiness. Winemakers looking to feature the wines terroir or location prefer this. If you are highlighting the grape, you don’t want additives muddying that and oak, while a vessel, imparts flavor and tannins to the wine. Of course you can use stainless steel, but…then there is less oxidation and the stainless can add a different sensation on your palate and potentially raise the acid in a wine. It should be noted that you can get a slight hint of minerality from the concrete.
When you get back to Terroir, many French Vintners and Saxum’s Justin Smith are using their own soils to create the concrete for their fermenters. So if you are adding minerality to the wine through the concrete, it is still the minerality that is native to the soils of the vineyard. Does this really impart flavor? Maybe, maybe not, but regardless it sounds cool doesn’t it?
The Stolpman Concrete Fermenters were designed by their winemaker Sashi Moorman and were inspired by concrete tanks he and Rajat Parr saw in Bodega Noemia in Patagonia.
Here’s a link to a blog post by Pete on the concrete fermenters. http://www.stolpmanvineyards.com/blog/refining-winemaking/concrete-waffles-not-eggs-focus-on-authentic-natural-wines/
And.. a Vino Vessel blog from Pete also
And Grape Collective Article on those Terroir Tanks I spoke of.
So just a bit of back ground, the geeky wine stuff that this seminar made me want to know more about. Be sure to watch the video or read the transcript below and try to get to the next seminar! They 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 Spring Weekend 2016
Episode 1: Introduction by moderator Wendy Thies Sell followed by Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards.
And now…Here is Episode 1 of the Syrah Seminar, with the introduction by Wendy Thies Sell followed by Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards in Ballard Canyon.
Below is the transcript for this section of the seminar. Episode 2 will feature Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards, where we get a bit more into the soil.
The Transcript (with a little more info than the video)
Wendy Thies Sell (WTS): Good morning everyone. Isn’t this a great way to start the day? My name is Wendy Thies Sell and I am happy to be the moderator today with these wonderful, talented wine makers up here sharing their wines with you. I think the beautiful thing about Santa Barbara County’s wine region is not only the diversity of climate, geology, geography, terroir, allowing for so many different grape varieties to thrive here, in this region, dozens of different grape varieties. But, also that chance taking maverick wine growers in the early days were brave enough to experiment with many different wine grape varieties. And the other cool thing is that those same wine pioneers are still at it today in Santa Barbara County.
One of those varieties that thrives here dates back more than 35 years in Santa Barbara County. Bob Lindquist was the first to make Syrah in Santa Barbara County in 1982 for his Qupe wine cellars from grapes he bought from Gary Eberle at Estrella River in Paso Robles. Zaca Mesa made their own Syrah in 1983 from their own vineyard in Foxen Canyon. Their earliest Syrah vines were grafted over onto Petite Sirah planted in 1978. This is part of the famous “Black Bear Block”. Then in 1986 Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley grafted the first 7 acres of X block Reisling over to Syrah. The first syrah crop there was in 1987, making it the first vineyard in California to grow what is considered cool climate Syrah. We are here this morning to celebrate what Santa Barbara County Syrah is today. It is grown in every Santa Barbara County AVA now totaling 1900 acres. Syrah plantings that is. And Syrah is produced in a range of styles as you will soon experience.
Let me introduce our panel. Seven people passionate about Santa Barbara County Syrah.
Over here to your right we have Peter Stolpman, Managing Partner of Stolpman Vineyards, Michael Larner, owner winemaker at Larner Vineyards and Winery, Chris Hammel vineyard manager at Bien Nacidio Vineyards, Larry Schaffer owner/ winermaker at tercero wines, Scott Sampler proprietor Winemaker of Central Coast Group Project, Mark Horvath owner winemaker of Crawford Family Wines and Chad Melville owner winegrower at SAMsARA and Melville Vineyards.
Today we will taste 8 Syrahs; 2 from Ballard Canyon, 2 from the Santa Maria Valley, 2 from Los Alamos and 2 from the Sta. Rita Hills, all current releases. And we begin in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, just a few miles from here in Ballard Canyon. One of Santa Barbara’s newest AVA’s it is a North South oriented Canyon providing a mixed climate on the edge of a cooler AVA;Sta. Rita Hills and a warmer AVA Happy Canyon. 60% of the vines planted in Ballard Canyon are Syrah. Tom Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyards in Ballard Canyon 2 decades ago and planted 153 acres to grapes. Their blocks of Syrah were planted in 1982 and 1984 and today wine #1 is Stolpman’s 2013 Original Syrah. Pete please tell us about this wine.
Peter Stolpman: Good morning everyone, thank you for coming out at 10 am to drink Syrah. When I was pouring this wine, I was reminded when I worked in the Barosa Valley back in 2006. we got one Sunday off and we went down to Adelaide for Brunch. We sat down at a nice place the guy I was with the winemaker ordered a bottle of Shiraz. You know great, if I wasn’t drinking enough Shiraz already, now we are drinking it at brunch. And quickly I found out why he did that. A couple tables over was one of his competitors. And they started talking over the table in between. Oh you know, what are you up to? And they had a bottle of bubbles on their table. Ah mate just havin’ a bottle of Bolle (bolle champagne) what are you up to? Ah Mate champagnes for girls, we’re drinkin’ Shiraz. So we’re drinking Shiraz and here we are. My dad actually sent me down to Australia to learn what not to do with Syrah. 2006 was really the high water mark for that really jammy high octane Shiraz profile. 2007 was a very difficult vintage. Then the economic crisis hit and Shiraz internationally really got hit, but today there is a whole new world-wide Syrah market and it’s very exciting. There has really been a sea change in the perception of Syrah and we are kind of having the chance to be reborn. Which brings us here, to Ballard Canyon. I was lucky enough to take over the vineyard in 2009 and in 2010 Michael Larner finally said “hey guys we have to get an AVA. And really put those initial steps together, got us all together driving for the AVA. We got our publication from the TTB in 2013. I will never forget, we were sitting at my place on the vineyard and everybody agreed that Syrah is Ballard Canyon’s #1 varietal and it should be our message. So today I think it’s really powerful that Ballard Canyon is the only AVA in America dedicated to Syrah. I’m not saying there are not great Syrahs made from every other AVA in Santa Barbara and Sonoma and Paso, but the majority of planted acreage in Ballard Canyon is Syrah, and it’s great to have everybody in agreement that it’s the perfect match. And when I talk about the Originals, it shows through with this Syrah in particular. The Originals planting as Wendy mentioned, was planted back in 1992 and 94. Half of it is that Estrella River clone from Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block we took the cutting and planted them on our vineyard. And that’s actually a very important vineyard, I feel in Santa Barbara County. If you get the chance to try an old Black Bear Zaca Mesa Syrah, they’re beautiful. I like them young too, but they really need to be a decade old to show their magic. That vineyard because it’s 1978, something like that you said (WTS: Yes Petite Sirah planted in 1978, grafted over to Syrah) So, and it’s 2nd generation of Estrella River, which is very important, because Estrella River has been passed around California, and sometimes if you get cuttings it will be riddled with virus because with every vineyard that it has planted and propagated and replanted, it has picked up a lot junk along the way. So I love that Black Bear material, I think it’s really clean and beautiful. And then the other material in this wine, is the Durell Vineyard from Sonoma. And unfortunately, and this sort of ties back in with the Syrah Market, there’s no more Syrah on Durell. They just couldn’t resist the temptation to add more and more Pinot Noir. Which is kind of telling in this kind of economic climate where there is so much money to be made in Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is so popular right now. That’s an interesting little side note. So Estrella River and Durell, and we call this “the Originals” because from everything we know it’s the original the oldest Syrah in Ballard Canyon. And from this block where Manfred Krankl and Adam Tolmach were buying fruit, everybody bought the land around us and planted more and more Syrah. And right now I think there are 17 vineyards in Ballard Canyon and 8 grower producers. Each of the 8 grower producers can use the Ballard Canyon bottle, only for Syrah. So we are really trying to bring that message that Syrah is our focus. So the words Ballard Canyon are etched into the shoulder of the bottle. And all of us in Ballard Canyon can use it if we’re the farmer and only for Syrah. And the style of the wine, we dry farm, we don’t irrigate from set all the way through harvest. We are really trying to achieve natural concentration by with holding irrigation, no dilution, and that way we can pick appropriately we want this to run right at 14% alcohol, we don’t really care for it to exceed that, but also we don’t want it far below. Below 14% we find that they can be a little austere and far above we kind of lose the nuance and freshness that we want out of Syrah. Again, we are not trying to make Shiraz. Fermented in concrete. Big thick concrete fermenters, all native fermentation and these days we only use free run juice. So we are only using the wine will come at the bottom of the tank without pressing. There’s no pressed wine. What we do with the concrete, very minimal punch downs a more gentle extraction and then only free run juice, so we are really trying to manage our tannin. Our wines back in the 90’s and 2000’s were really big and mean and we are really trying to hit a finer balance. Again that ties into the freshness, the nuance and we really want these wines approachable a couple years out rather than a decade out. But the 13’s still a little bit quiet. It’s unfiltered and will take a year or two more to really come out of it’s shell. But today we are all showing current vintage so some of them might be a bit young. Thank you all.
WTS: How many different Syrah’s do you produce?
Peter Stolpman: 5 We have a, give or take, we have some new plantings that are really exciting. We’ve got, I’ve transitioned more to head pruned really high density vines that can only be worked over by hand, by our full time crew. But I think we have 90 acres today of Syrah. And from which we make our main line, our estate grown, The Originals which would be the old vine, 1 hilltop spot and Angeli’s selection named after my mom and her family and then Ruben’s block for the great Ruben Solorazano, our vineyard manager.
WTS: And Stolpman has a tasting room in Los Olivos and also one on the weekends in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Thank you Pete.