The Importance of Syrah
I am asked so many times “why Syrah?”
This question is usually followed by people in the industry with other questions like “it is such a pain in the ass to sell, why even bother?” or “sure growers love it, winemakers love it, but if other people don’t, why try?”
In most cases people sum up my insistence on Syrah and Syrah related blends in a couple of ways.
1: I am young, therefore stupid in the ways of the world/ need to make expensive mistakes before I realize my own ignorance, get in back in the fold, and start paying Andy Beckstoffer 20,000 dollars a ton for Cabernet.
2: I am young and idealistic and thus do not realize how hard Syrah is to sell.
3: I am young and am going to go broke (and then cannot pay $20,000 for Tokalon Cab)
Fair enough. I am young. I am focusing a large part of my attention on a varietal that is struggling to gain traction in the marketplace. Yes, the bank may decide to cut me off if I cannot sell the stuff.
Why do I do it?
Frankly, because along with Zinfandel there is no better grape more suited for more parts of California than Syrah, and frankly, I prefer most Syrah (and this is heresy coming from my background).
I counter with “why is Syrah scary?!”
I think it is this. People are afraid of the unknown and Syrah produces excellent, but drastically different wines from a multitude of different areas in California. It makes excellent wines from the toes of the Sierras all the way to the coastal hills of Mendocino. People do not know what they are going to get—big, fat, and rich, or perfumey, lean, and moderately austere. Unlike Napa Cabernet, where the standard of what wine should taste like is so entrenched that any aberration from the norm is nearly universally derided, Syrah comes in a complex array of forms and flavors ready to come at you like a young Sugar Ray Leonard.
It keeps you guessing.
And I think this is why I love it so. It is both intellectual and hedonistic. It allows me, as a winemaker, to fuck around a lot. I can play with 90% whole clusters, or toss in 10% Viognier, ferment everything in open top puncheon, use 100% new oak or 0 % new oak. Really anything I want. And I can tailor it to site- because I know I can receive incredible quality, unique, Syrah from 2000 feet above sea level at the tip-top of Bald Mountain and Mt. Veeder to equally fascinating juice from a vineyard grown 15 feet above sea level facing the windy maw of San Pablo Bay and the Petaluma Gap at Old Lakeville Vineyard. Some will benefit from lots of oak, ripe picking, extended maceration, and some, will benefit from the opposite. And everything in between. And if one does it right the result is absolutely singular and delicious.
So, does this make me an idealist. Maybe. I say, at least I am an idealist with good taste and a thirst for adventure. Or perhaps the other way around.