Chad Melville – SAMsARA Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

Melville Vineyard

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 7

The last of the winemakers to speak at the Syrah Seminar was Chad Melville of SAMsARA. He spoke on his 2012 SAMsARA Syrah from Donna’s Block at Melville Vineyards that Chad helped plant back in 1998.

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Melville to SAMsARA

When you hear the name Melville you think Sta. Rita Hills. Chad Melville worked with his father and brother to plant and build Melville Vineyards and Winery. He continues to work with Melville as their head winegrower. With his own label, SAMsARA, Chad is able to do small batches and take a few more chances in the wine making process. The winery is garage/warehouse in Lompoc. Their home page gives you the definition of their name, it is originally Sanskrit and in Buddhism speaks of “the process of coming into existence as a differentiated moral creature” and in Hinduism of “the endless series of births, deaths and rebirths to which all beings are subject”.

The SAMsARA Syrah from Melville Vineyards

The Syrah Chad had with him was a 2012 Melville Vineyard Syrah. This was pulled from 5 rows of Donna’s block at Melville.  Donna’s Block is in the Northwest section of their Estate Vineyard and is planted on 20 feet of sand.  It was 50% whole cluster which will give you more tannins and structure, native yeast, basket pressed and in barrel for about 2 years. I will mention that this is a current release that you won’t find on the website. They have a Priority Release list, followed by a Mailing list and if there is any wine left over after that, then they are posted on the website.

You can find SAMsARA online at http://www.samsarawine.com/ They have a tasting room in Los Olivos at 2446 Alamo Pintado Avenue that is open Thursday to Monday from 11 am to 5 pm and by appointment on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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/

And check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on our visit to Santa Barbara.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The Video!

The Transcript

WTS: All right staying in Sta. Rita Hills for our final wine, number 8 the 2012 SAMsARA Syrah, Melville Vineyard, located along highway 246 near Lompoc. Planted in 1996, by Ron Melville and his sons, Melville Vineyards grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The Syrah Block is 9 different clones planted in 1998 has deep light textured sandy loam soil. Chad not only makes this wine, he grows it. Tell us about what goes into a bottle of SAMsARA Syrah.

Chad Melville: Thanks. This is such a pleasure to be here and to listen to all these great winemakers and growers and to be able to taste through these fantastic wines and to see the differences of the climates and the soils and how they impact. The SAMsARA…I only work with Syrah from cool climates. Sta. Rita Hills that has been touched on is a very extreme cold climate. If you guys are familiar with the Davis program with the way they dissect the regions, one through five with five being the hottest, one being the coldest, there are some years where Sta. Rita Hills doesn’t even register one. So it’s that cold, right? What makes it really unique as well is that we have really early bud break. So we typically get bud break in Syrah in early March, which makes for a really long growing season, given that we are picking Syrah typically in the middle of November. Some years we even go to December. So it’s crazy right? The idea that growing Syrah is easy in a cold climate is completely false. It requires just as much time and effort to grow Syrah as it does Pinot Noir, so our farming costs are essentially the same. It’s a late ripening varietal, so it’s DNA, its propensity is to just naturally ripen late. You put that in a cold climate, you’re asking for a little bit of trouble, right? It’s also a very friendly forgiving grape. It will always produce a lot of fruit. You can plant it in the concrete outside and you would have a vineyard. It will grow anywhere. So it requires you to drop a lot of fruit in a cold climate to insure that you can get it ripe, and again, we’re still picking it quite late in the season. So there’s a lot of risk there, right? But there is also a lot of reward and with cold climate Syrah you tend to get; I love when Mark said this “quivering tension”. You get that fruit; you get that Syraness that’s there, that tannin, the deep dark richness. You also get this vibrant quivering acidity that’s there. It just makes it really unique and different. It doesn’t make it better than anyone else’s it doesn’t make it a better climate than anyone else’s; it just makes it different and unique. With this wine in particular, it’s 50% whole clusters, so there’s kind of an additional layer or integration of tannin. It’s completely neutral wood, so the idea was to get little tiny slivers of blocks within Sta. Rita. So this is five rows of our Donna’s Block at Melville, which is in, as well as Zotovich, pure sand. So neutral wood, 50% whole cluster, bright acidity, bright fruit and this kind of extra layer of tannin.

WTS: Chad told me he likes to push the envelope with SAMsARA. What does that mean?

Chad Melville: I do it all natural, so it’s native yeast, it’s basket pressed, and it’s in barrel for 2 years. It goes to bottle unfined and unfiltered and it’s in bottle for 1 year. So this is the current release here. It’s really about procuring really beautiful clean concentrated fruit and then kind of getting out of the way. So for those of you who know much about the winemaker process, it’s a pretty non-manipulative approach. And in terms of pushing the envelope, you know those are things that you can typically do when you are producing smaller amounts. It’s a lot risky and maybe even partly crazy or non-advisable to be doing native yeast with big fermentations. Basket pressing just simply is inefficient if you have a lot to do, so it typically something that you find with smaller productions. But also the wine sits in barrels almost 20 months without any SO2, but it’s in a really cold environment. So by controlling the cellar it allows me to take that risk. All those little things are really pushing it. I mean I only make 125 cases of this wine, so you can sleep a lot easier when you are making smaller lots. If I approach it this way at Melville, it would be a little nerve wracking.

WTS: SAMsARA has a tasting room in Los Olivos and all of these wineries will be pouring today at the 34th Annual Santa Barbara County Vintners Festival Grand Tasting at Riverview Park. I hope you all will be going. It’s from 1:00 to 4:00 this afternoon and all of these wineries will be represented there.

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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/

And check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on our visit to Santa Barbara.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 6: Mark Horvath on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

The Transcript

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.

Syrah in Santa Barbara County

Stoplman-Vineyard

Syrah…it’s a fairly well known grape.  It is the “S” in GSM the great Rhone Blend.  It can also be masterful at subtle changes and some not so subtle.  The 2016 Wine Seminar at the Vintners Spring Weekend was a time to dive into the varied sides of Syrah with a panel of owners, winemakers and growers in the Santa Barbara Region.  Wendy Thies Sell did a masterful job moderating as she and the winemakers guided us through the variations on the wines of this grape varietal.

Santa Barbara Vintners 2016 Wine Seminar on Syrah

Santa Barbara Vintners 2016 Wine Seminar on Syrah

The Panel

Peter Stolpman, Managing Partner at Stolpman Vineyards.

Peter is the son of Tom Stolpman, who sat in the crowd for this seminar.  The Stolpman Vineyard is located in Ballard Canyon and they have a tasting room in Los Olivos.  They are lucky enough to have famed Vineyard….Ruben and Sashi Moorman as their winemaker.

Michael Larner, Owner & Winemaker at Larner Vineyard and Winery

Chris Hammell, Vineyard Manager at Bien Nacido Vineyards

Larry Schaffer, Owner & Winemaker at tercero wines

Scott Sampler, Proprietor & Winemaker at the Central Coast Group Project

Mark Horvath, Owner & Winemaker at Crawford Family Wines

Chad Melville, Owner & Winegrower at SAMsARA and Melville

With the panel before us and 8 glasses of Syrah from around the region, we dug in.

The Wines

Ballard Canyon Syrahs

Ballard Canyon AVA has self identified as Syrah Territory.  Peter Stolpman speaks of the 18 varieties of grapes they tested.  “Syrah chose us” he says.  This variety grows and expresses extremely well here, so well that  –% of the vineyards here are planted in Syrah.  This AVA has 17 Vineyards and 8 Grower/Producers.

We sampled the 2013 Originals Syrah from Stolpman Vineyards and the 2011 Estate Syrah from Larner Vineyard and Winery

Santa Maria Syrahs

When you think Santa Maria and in particular Bien Nacido, you probably think Pinot Noir.  Don’t tell, but Chris Hammell says that their winemaker believes Syrah to be the finest grape they grow there.

Chris brought the 2012 Bien Nacido Syrah  as well as a 2011 Qupe Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah.

Los Alamos Valley Syrahs

While not yet an AVA, the Los Alamos Valley is pumping out some beautiful fruit.  Both of the Syrahs we tasted came from White Hawk Vineyard which is on the east side of the Los Alamos Valley in Cat Canyon.

Larry Schaffer from tercero wines brought his 2011 White Hawk Vineyard Syrah and Scott Sampler of the Central Coast Group Project brought his 2012 “Names” White Hawk Vineyard Syrah.

Sta. Rita Hills Syrahs?

So probably even more than Santa Maria, Sta. Rita Hills is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay country.  But yes, Syrah is grown here also and expresses itself in a very elegant way.

Mark Horvath of Crawford Family Wines had a 2014 Zotovich Syrah.  Zotovich is in the unsexy center section of the Sta. Rita Hills, the flat part without any hills.  Nonetheless the fruit from this vineyard is consistent and beautiful.  Chad Melville brought his 2012 SAMsARA Melville Syrah grown at the Melville Vineyard.

We will be posting the entire Seminar in Episodes.  Watch for the first with the Introduction with Moderator Wendy Thies Sell and the conversation with Peter Stolpman.

And check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on our visit to Santa Barbara.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.