I cut my teeth in the wine industry during my 17 years of working with Joe Phelps of Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Joe was a tireless perfectionist who taught me much of what has made the wine business so pleasurable and productive for me. He also taught me to appreciate Syrah.
Joe loved Syrah and devoted an enormous amount of his career to working with it. A year or so ago, he paid me a high compliment when he called me to order a case of our ‘Garys’ Vineyard’ Syrah. ‘I’d like to pass it around to some friends and colleagues,’ he said. ‘I want them to see how it should be made.’
Tadeo works closely with the ‘Gary‘ Pisoni family as these grapes develop, and he is a fanatic about the picking time and conditions of harvest. We get less than three tons of Syrah from the vineyard every year, and the grapes are hand-harvested in the chill of the early morning, delivered to the winery in a refrigerated truck, carefully hand-sorted, then transferred whole-cluster into an open-top fermentation tank.
The grapes are all crushed by foot – we retain 100% of the stems, and don’t want to break any of them with a de-stemming machine. We then ferment using only native yeast. We macerate the skins on the juice for 6-8 weeks, then age the wine one year in a combination of 60-gallon French oak barrels and cement eggs. It’s kept on the yeast lees without racking, fining or SO2 additions for this entire time.
The finished wine is dark purple in color, vibrantly aromatic, and has that wonderful combination of black pepper, leather and violets the French call Myrtle Berry. It has a level of charm in its youth that makes it irresistible.
The 2014 Syrah ‘Garys’ Vineyard’ is now available. The vines come from one of the coldest-climate vineyards in California, and are a non-clonal, heirloom selection. The yield is a small crop of tiny grapes just loaded with the flavors of blueberry and earth. It really needs to be tried to be fully appreciated.