Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 3 Bien Nacido

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners 2016

Chris Hammell of Bien Nacido

Chris Hammell is the Vineyard Manager for Bien Nacido Vineyards. Bien Nacido is located in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County. This vineyard is distinctive.   Once you have tasted a Pinot Noir from grapes made from Bien Nacido, you don’t forget it, and forever more you will be able to pick out a Pinot made from these grapes. But…during this episode we will be talking about Syrah from this renowned vineyard.

Chris Hammel

Chris Hammel

Bien Nacido is a little magical. When you drive out there, you find little to let you know that, that is where you are. If you happen to get the secret directions to one of the bi-annual BBQ’s at Au Bon Climat, you will drive out through part of the vineyard. Au Bon Climat & Qupe have their shared winery on the vineyard.

qupewineryBien Nacido is owned by the Millers, who have been growing grapes here since the 70’s. They primarily grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Syrah. But its history goes back much further. It was part of a Spanish land grant back in 1837, given to Tomas Olivera. He sold it in 1855 to Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who was his son in law. Ontiveros raised horses, cattle, sheep, grew grains AND grapes for wine. The vineyard is 900 acres of the over 3000 acres of Ranch, and as Wendy mentions below “It is considered the most “vineyard designated” vineyard in the world”.

Chris spoke on two wines made from Bien Nacido Grapes. The first is a 2012 Bien Nacido Syrah made by their winemaker Trey Fletcher, who joined them to start the wine making side of the business in 2011. Before that, Bien Nacido was a vineyard that did not make wine, but sold their amazing fruit to some of the most distinguished wineries and winemakers in California, including; Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Adam Tolmach, Gary Farrell, Paul Lato, Sine Qua Non and Bob Lindquist of Qupe.

Episode 3 Part 1: Chris Hammel,

Vineyard Manager Bien Nacido Vineyards speaking on the Bien Nacido 2012 Syrah

Qupe 2011 Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah

Bob Lindquist has been making Syrah from Bien Nacido for 30 years. We heard him speak at last years Seminar – Zaca Mesa University. Here is the video from the segment with Bob and Jim Clendenen. which includes the story of how Jim got Bob fired and hired over the Kinks. Bob Lindquist is a Syrah legend in Santa Barbara.

Chris had the 2011 Qupe Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah. This was Bob’s 30th consecutive bottling of Syrah and the coolest vintage he had ever seen.

Episode 3 Part 2: Chris Hammel

Vineyard Manager Bien Nacido Vineyards speaking on Bob Lindquist and the Qupe 2011 Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah

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.

You can see more about Bien Nacido at their site

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 Transcript (with a little more than the video)

Wendy Thies Sell (WTS): We are now going to move to the north. The northernmost AVA in Santa Barbara County is the Santa Maria Valley home to the renowned Bien Nacido Vineyards, first planted more than 40 years ago. In 1993 and 94 Bien Nacido planted the “Z” Block which is where all Bien Nacido’s Syrah is sourced as well as Qupe’s Hillside Vineyards, Paul Lato’s Syrahs, Sine Qua Non sourced fruit there and other big names. And we are happy to have with us today acclaimed vineyard manager, Chris Hammell of Bien Nacido, where he custom farms more than 600 acres for dozens of wineries. It is considered the most “vineyard designated” vineyard in the world, meaning, Chris masterfully juggles a huge customer base (Pete Stolpman: For the next 5 minutes Chris Hammell will juggle) He has the muscles to do it, right.

Today we taste two wines made from fruit grown at Bien Nacido. We will start with the 2012 Bien Nacido Syrah made by the Estates winemaker Trey Fletcher. Chris works hand in hand with Trey. I don’t know if they actually “hold hands”. Chris, tell us about the grape growing and the winemaking philosophy at Bien Nacido.


Chris Hammell: Well first of all, I would like to say that it’s really nice to be up here, with you guys and with these panelist. Santa Maria is kind of a unique spot, a little on the cooler side. I applaud what these guys are doing in Ballard Canyon and although I have kind of a love hate relationship with the AVA concept and system, I kinda don’t want it there unless it’s pure and like my AVA, I say mine because they don’t let me off the farm very often, the Santa Maria Valley, you can see these strange straight lines that are like arbitrarily drawn by county divisions going up and down hills that really leave one somewhat disillusioned if you’re a purist. I’ve been a tremendous fan of the Ballard Canyon area, the people and the wines and quite particularly the Syrah coming off of there. That’s AVA done right. And I’m a huge fan of White Hawk. Also of the region where Chad is, where he and his family have Melville right down here off of the 246. So pretty sweet for me to be up here. I love these wines and I love Syrah and to see them in a line up like this is a big honor. Back in the late 2000’s Nicolas Miller part of the family who I work for, that owns Bien Nacido, he decided he wanted, for whatever reason, to do an estate project. He recruited this guy named Trey Fletcher, an up and coming younger wine maker, full of talent and vision and we converted an old dairy barn, in the middle of the vineyard to be the winery. He gets free run to do what he wants with Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay and Syrah. So this is his 2012. I don’t know how techie we should get and as Wendy said I’m the vineyard manager so I’m just basically farming these two wines and they are kind enough to let me present them. Unlike, Michael who kind of does for his project he kind of sees both sides. But I’m around enough to know, and I pay attention enough to know, kind of what these guys are up to. Trey’s philosophy would be since he doesn’t have to really pay for the grapes, he drops them to like a ton per acre. That just stays between us, okay? (to Michael filming in the back) You’re a good editor right? He drops them really low, because we think, especially in climates like Bien Nacido for example, which is sometimes, in some years, especially in 2011, pushing the limits as far as getting the variety of Syrah to a ripeness, to potential alcohol ripeness and phenolic ripeness. And so we typically see yields that are very low, either from nature or from us going in there and basically lowering the crop down to make sure that we can achieve the ripeness that in most years that the winemakers are looking for. So he’s the guy that will shoot for maybe 13%, which as Pete was mentioning, that kind of coincides with this trend that I’m seeing of a little more elegance a little more what people would call arbitrarily balance. Basically a shift from, how ripe can we go to, stylistically what really turns these winemakers on. Who are some of their fans, that they are trying to emulate throughout the world. In 2012, 13, 14 and pretty much 15, we had the luxury of basically choosing ripeness. So Trey is pretty much a Pinot & Chardonnay guy, pretty much a second shot at doing Syrah, where he is fully in control. You see a wine that is probably about 13.1, probably 30% whole cluster, probably about 30% new oak, and this is something that we’ve seen him in the last few years change to a larger format barrels for whatever reason, but these would all be in the standard burgundy 228 liter, normal barrels that we all see everywhere. This would have been in barrel for about 18 months. Pumpovers, punchdowns both and his big thing in fermentation other than managing it responsibly, has to do with tannin, especially at the end. He is going, I can’t speak to how he does it, but he’s obsessed with tannin management. Whether he gets it right, you guys can be the judge. That’s his big thing. He loves making Syrah, he considers personally, Bien Nacido to be a better Syrah vineyard than Pinot. He thinks the magic is Syrah and Chardonnay for him and for the styles that he likes to do. I’m not supposed to go on record with that either. (Michael LarnerS: that’s why they don’t let him off the ranch very often) Why did I get smaller pours than everybody else? It’s like a conspiracy theory. He’s pulling out all the stops to do what he can. He’s super inspired by Northern Rhone, Cornas which is pretty in vogue these days. His Sommelier buddies like it. I think he’s doing an awesome job and I’ve learned alot from him, both in the vineyard and in the winery. I love the wine. Santa Maria wine is super distinct. Not always so user friendly right off the bat. Especially they don’t show so much fruit, they show herbs and spice and hopefully everything else nice. I don’t know why I have two wines too.


WTS: We are staying with Chris here, but I wanted to mention that Bien Nacido has a tasting room in Los Olivos. Larner has a tasting room in the Los Olivos General Store, I forgot to mention that earlier. Our next wine #4, we are sticking with Chris here, because he also farms the Hillside Syrah at Bien Nacido for Qupe. The next wine is the 2011 Qupe Bien Nacido Vineyard Hillside Syrah. This vintage has special meaning for Qupe’s winemaker Bob Lindquist. 2011 was his 30th vintage and his 30th consecutive bottling of Syrah. He told me 2011 was an extremely cool vintage, one of the coolest on record and probably one of the coolest Bob had seen in 37 years of making wine on the central coast. It was a very small crop 1.3 tons an acre in Z block where this Syrah comes from. Harvest was late. Bob remembers taking his son trick or treating Halloween night and then picking this Syrah the next morning November 1st. And Chris was out there picking this Syrah that you are about to taste. (Chris: All by myself) Single handedly. Chris tell us what is it like to work with Bob and you probably, after all these years know exactly what he wants, right?


Chris Hammell: Yeah, more and more. First of all if I start talking so much and then Larry Schaffer starts mad doggin’ me, just give me some kind of sign, cause I can’t really see him. You guys know what I’m talking about. Bob is a true pioneer it’s interesting, Syrah is still kind of finding it’s place and is still kind of young in a sense. With Pinot and Chardonnay we had all these people, an amazing kind of group of winemakers, more or less the same age coming from the same philosophy and it was amazing. We didn’t have that as much with Syrah. You had Bob Lindquist and probably a couple others. You see on this panel, myself excluded, a second wave of pioneers. All of us look up to Bob a lot. I’m not a name dropping guy, but I went to France and we got, for some reason, invited to go see Jean-Louis Chave, who’s like the most famous Syrah guy in the whole world, by everyone’s admission pretty much. He’s a really nice guy and we’re in the cellar throwin’ it up with Jean-Louis Chave the 22nd. Honestly, he’s like the 22nd Jean-Louis. And he says, he speaks perfect English almost without any accent, “Hi Chris, thanks for coming. How’s Bob Lindquist? I love Bob Lindquist.” And then half the conversation was about Bob and not Chave and the amazing legacy that they’ve produced. He’s a legend and this is the second time, interestingly enough that I’ve been able to talk about his wines in front of a group. I spoke with him on the way down and he’s the most gracious wonderful person that one could meet. Many of you probably know him and if you don’t, seek him out today and get a chance to spend time around a real legend, who makes fantastic long lived wonderful wines. He’s never really changed his approach. It’s an honor for me. What he was telling Dayna and I on the way down was, reminding us of this strange vintage that was 2011, which despite the extremely low yields, Is Larry doing…is he..okay, (WTS: He’s good). We had to pick on November 1st because of the rain. I think it was like 22 and a half brix, and he’s kind of a low 23’s guy. There can be differences, so you taste some notes that are leaner and this and that. Interestingly enough, what Bob does and he was fine that I shared this with you, that’s kind of unusual, is he’ll take let’s say 10% right off the bat of the juice before it’s started to ferment and he’ll put it in brand new Francois Frere heavy toast barrels and make it like a rose, but that’s after cold soak so it has some extraction already. And then he’ll take all or a portion of that at first racking which is about a year later, and blend that back into the wine. It’s like a style thing, which I think is pretty cool. He’s done it all along and still does.   Also, this wine, even in a lean year like that, for whatever reason, he has about 35% full cluster, of that 90% that he did ferment on the skin. And then the whole Cuvee ended up being, because of the short crop and probably he had a lot of new barrels, who knows, about 65% new Francois Frere heavy toast. Bien Nacido’s, probably all these wines frankly, it seems most years to be able to withstand, that’s a bad word, it makes it seem like using oak is not good, but everybody talks like that for some reason. But, it can integrate and it can be pleasant. As Pete was saying, these wines can be extraordinarily interesting with age. Because we’re friends with Bob and his winery is on the vineyard where we live, we’ve been able to try countless numbers of old Qupe Syrahs and whites, frankly and they can be just extraordinary. It’s fascinating, but the best years of this wine are probably in the future. Thank you guys.


WTS: Thank you Chris.











Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 2

Larner Vineyard

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 2 – Michael Larner

The second episode of the Syrah Seminar from Santa Barbara features Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery. Michael has always been very gracious with his time when we are in Santa Barbara and you can see several video interviews we did with him in the vineyard and his office on subject such as the Language of the Vines , Heat spikes during harvest , his Malvasia Bianca , the Ballard Canyon AVA , the history of his vineyard and of course Syrah

Michael’s background is in geology so it will be no surprise that the discussion with him during the seminar focused on soil. His labels illustrate his love for the soil with his mono varietal wines featuring a soil column indicating the type of soil that these vines grow in within the vineyard and his blends featuring a fee scale, which is used to separate soil particles. In this conversation he also dives in a little on climate and how it makes Ballard Canyon “Syrah Territory”

Michael Larner speaking on Syrah.

Michael Larner speaking on Syrah.

Here is the video with the transcript below. You can look forward to more of Michael speaking on his labels and soil, as well as our latest interview with him following “The Fête” at Larner during this last Vintners Spring Weekend.

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.

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 Spring Weekend 2016

Episode 2: Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards & Winery



The Transcript (with a little more info than the video)

Wendy Thies Sell (WTS): Our next wine is also from Ballard Canyon. Michael Larner’s parents Stephen and Christine Larner founded the estate back in 1997. Most of their 35 acre vineyard is planted to Syrah. Michael and his sister Monica manage the property. Michael, a geologist, earned his masters degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. Michael tell us about the 2011 Larner Vineyards estate Syrah the #2 wine.

Michael Larner: Thank you, thank you for the introduction and thank you all for coming. It’s an honor to be up here for me because, in 1999 when our vineyard was planted we were Larner Vineyard, which basically meant, we sold fruit. And up until 2009 we sold 100% of our fruit, to folks like Scott, Mark, Larry, Chad…I think you two (Chris and Peter) are the only one’s who haven’t bought fruit from me.

Chris Hammel: I steal your clients to use on my slide presentation. (laughter)

Michael Larner: So it’s an honor because for us the brand really originated from winemakers who were talented and seeking out varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre that we have on the estate. And Wendy’s right, of our 34 acres 23 are planted to Syrah. So we knew, and heavily invested in Syrah for our Estate. Were 2 miles south of Stolpman and the climate is not that much different, but what does change is some of the geology. Pete has a little bit more limestone substrate, I have more chalk. So it’s the same sort of material, but just in a different physical state. Chalk is fractured and allows root penetration, allows sort of water get a little sort of perched situations. So it kind of creates a similar element which all of us have the same base material, but the nature that it’s in changes the dynamic, because what’s interesting for me is I have very sandy soils on top of that chalk and that forces the vines to be stressed out almost year round. So we essentially have to be very proactive in our farming. Luckily being a vineyard first we spent a lot of time dialing in the vineyard, making sure that the fruit was optimal, doing per acre agreements, getting clients up to speed to the best fruit possible. Then it was a natural step for us to branch out. So the first year I made wine was 2009. I had the good fortune to work for Guigal in France and Tenuta in Italy and something that was locked into my mind is allow the wines to evolve on their own, age them longer, release them later, so they are enjoyable to drink right off the bat. So actually my current release, which you are trying today, is 2011, and that’s by design, because I want that wine to be well integrated and velvety and soft. I also chose 2011 because when you get to California and the wine critics, basically everybody panned 2011. If you get rain north of Paso Robles everybody thinks California got hosed with water. But we didn’t get anything. Yes, it might have been a slightly cooler vintage, but that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to Syrah, it just changes the expression of the varietal and the wine. So I wanted to kind of showcase a vintage that I thought may not have been well received by the critics, to me it was well received because it shows a really nice elegance and balance.

WTS: It does. Michael, why do you think Ballard Canyon is so perfectly suited for Syrah?

Michael Larner: I jokingly call it the Goldilocks syndrome. Which, it’s not too cool and not too hot. When you try some of the wines from Sta. Rita you’ll find there are certain Syrah characteristics that are accentuated and almost define the wine. You usually see more pepper, pepper spices that kind of thing and then if you try a wine that’s more in Happy Canyon; Syrah grows in every AVA; you will find more fruit forward. But when you are in Ballard, you have all that. You have pepper, you have fruit, you have balance, you have good acidity. So to me it’s almost like the perfect place to grow Syrah. And one of the things that makes us, Pete and I, aware of that is that we don’t have to work really hard to make a good Syrah, it sort of does it for us and then we’re sort of there corralling it into making the styles that we want to identify with our brand. If we were in other regions we might have to do something to help get it right, if it’s too cool or pick early so we get away from the overly fruity tones or alcohol, but in Ballard Canyon it’s very much, we call it “Syrah Territory” it’s very comfortable in that domain.

More on Larner Vineyard & Winery

Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 1

Stoplman Vineyard

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

Zaca Mesa pathway

Zaca Mesa Tasting Room & Winery

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.

Concrete Fermenters

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).

Bridlewood Concrete Egg

Bridlewood Concrete Egg

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.

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.

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.

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 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.