Neyers Vineyards

Vintner Tales

March 26, 2020

The Coldest Syrah Vineyard in California

by Bruce Neyers

Monterey Bay fog rolls in over the hills of Garys’ Vineyard – Summer 2019 

The 50-acre Santa Lucia Highlands property known as Garys’ Vineyard resulted from a 1997 partnership formed between Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni – longtime friends and neighbors who grew up in the farming community of the Salinas Valley. Only four acres of the vineyard are devoted to Syrah, but these vines grow in what is generally considered the coldest climate for Syrah in California.

The weather here closely simulates the conditions Syrah vines experience in Côte-Rôtie where it is one of the last red grapes harvested in France. The long, exaggerated growing season at Garys’ Vineyard allows the grapes to reach full physiological ripeness and produce wines of unparalleled flavor, complexity, and finesse. Few grape farmers in California understand the demands of growing Syrah here, as do the two Garys.

In the 17 years that our winemaker Tadeo Borchardt and I have worked together, we have regularly traveled through the heart of the northern Rhône Valley of France, meeting, and tasting wines with, many of the most celebrated Syrah producers in the world. Respected craftsmen like Auguste Clape, Noël Verset, Thierry Allemand, Robert Jasmin, and Marius Gentaz opened the doors of their cellars to me during my years with Kermit Lynch. Tadeo has met most of them, as well, and studied their techniques, tasted their wines, and listened to their advice. As a result, we take what we believe are grapes from one of the finest Syrah vineyards in California and produce from them a small amount of extraordinary wine.

The vines at Garys’ Vineyard are among the most carefully and attentively tended in the world, and the 2018 vintage was remarkable in the Santa Lucia Highlands. We harvested exactly 3 tons on October 10 — the latest harvest in the past five years — and delivered the grapes to the winery in a refrigerated truck to eliminate any risk of damage during transportation. The grapes were fermented in open-top tanks retaining 100% of the stems. We fermented using only native, wild yeasts — without the addition of laboratory developed yeast — and the grapes were crushed by foot — a traditional French pigeage. After 45 days, the tanks were drained and pressed, and the new wine was racked to a combination of new and used 60-gallon French oak barrels. The wine was aged on the lees for six months, then racked for the first time. We racked twice more for natural clarification before the wine was bottled – unfiltered and unfined – on December 13.

We tasted this new wine recently with some of our other favorite bottlings of Syrah. Barbara took advantage of the beautiful spring-like weather we’ve enjoyed lately and prepared grilled beef ribs to accompany the tasting. The 2018 Garys’ already displays the classic aroma of Syrah — an exotic combination of freshly crushed black pepper, hints of crème de cassis, and lovely ripe blueberries. It’s just now beginning to display notes characteristic of bacon fat and smoked meat, and it has that marvelous soft texture that makes Syrah such an attractive wine in its youth.