A Closer Look At Santa Barbara Syrah

The film adaptation of a novel named Sideways was a hit that spread across the globe with California Pinot Noir. Reviewers raised their glasses, and wine lovers and developers were awed by the setting in Santa Barbara County, 90 miles to the northwest of Los Angeles. They shopped for the wine that the film’s protagonist, Miles, plays in the film by Paul Giamatti, called “brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient.” However, the region’s Syrahs could be the best-kept secret. 

As compared to Napa Valley, which, for many, is associated with California wines, Santa Barbara is an Oenological infant. Modern viticulture was introduced here about fifty years ago. However, the area’s distinctive feature is a million years old. In the past, an earthquake snatched away the site of today’s Los Angeles, spun it 90 degrees, and then carried it to the northwest. New mountains erupted, and a distinctive valley region exposed to the ocean emerged. Santa Barbara is now the only transverse (east-west) expanding area on the Pacific Coast of the Americas.

These geological marks inspired sailors and grape growers Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict. Benedict drove along the 30-mile length of the valley by putting an outside thermometer and observed that the temperature rose 1 degree Fahrenheit for every mile to the east. Furthermore, the ocean’s influence extended deep into the valley, ensuring that nights were cool and fresh. This drive resulted in not just their name-brand vineyard, which wine lovers highly covet for the Burgundian perceptions of Pinot and Chardonnay as well as the current time in Santa Barbara wine. What needs to be added to the tale is that in the year 1971. That same year, the grower Charlotte Young planted Syrah to the east. Her Ibarra-Young vineyard sparked Santa Barbara Syrah. Within a decade, the grape covered the entire county.

Santa Barbara is home to Ballard Canyon, the only American Viticultural Area (AVA) dedicated explicitly to Syrah. The hilly, moderate area dotted with limestone is creating an image for its terroir and its most popular variety, with the marine soils, the Rhone-like winds, and distinctive wines. Additionally, the clever marketing. Like France’s Jura or Chateauneuf-du-Pape region, growers-producers utilize a customized glass mold to imprint the Ballard Canyon name on estate bottlings. The good news is that this AVA isn’t the only one to grow delicious Syrah. In our ever-changing and changing climate, it’s clear that the Californian spirit of westward expansion is active and alive. Growers are expanding further into the sea, pushing limits of what varieties are ripe in search of distinctiveness.

Syrah in Santa Barbara grows on rocky soils with a cool climate, which is the ideal condition for this grape variety to perform well.

What will happen if Syrah becomes Santa Barbara’s most coveted grape? Based on the meteoric rise in the popularity of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay over the last two decades (clobbering other wines in terms of output and sales), It isn’t peculiar. However, these producers are making the case for Syrah to take the stage. It now proves it can be a winner in various fog-strewn wineries.

Let these outstanding producers and wines take you to the latest sweetheart’s home in the Northern Rhone!

Stolpman Vineyards

Perched on top of one of the limestone outcrops found in the coastal region of California, We discover Stolpman Vineyards. It’s only possible to talk about Santa Barbara Syrah by mentioning Stolpman. Stolpman’s family business was the key to the development of the renowned Ballard Canyon, and it continues to be a leader with its own-rooted vines Cote Rotie-style, trellising styles, and traditional clones. From their sardonically-macerated, sulfur-free So Fresh bottlings to more structured estate cuvees, Stolpman is meeting the changing market with an array of Syrah styles.

It’s also ironic that the company’s founder Tom Stolpman was so committed to cultivating grapes that for nearly ten years, the company didn’t produce any wine at all. Stolpman wasn’t initially a fan of Syrah as well. Although some of the plantings are from 1993, he began giving varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Nebbiolo credibility beforebefore grafting them to Syrah, now the mainstay of Stolpman’s program. This is for a reason. The variety of styles and consistency of the quality is unmatched. The main ingredient in these wines is the Acidity and vibrancy, which reflect their limestone origins.

Stolpman Vineyards is located on the hilltops of California’s Central Coast on a rare limestone outcrop, which is perfectly suitable for the cultivation of Syrah.

The crunchiness of Roastie (US $ 24) is the tiniest of Stolpman’s cuvees. This Beaujolais Nouveau-style wine is a riff on the sour, crunchy Syrah co-fermented by Viognier in a Cote Rotie style. Two distinct bottlings boast two labels: a black and white label that was bottled shortly after the beginning of the year sparkling with blue fruit as well as violet candy and mouthwatering Acidity with a rainbow bottle that was bottled in June, adding spiced jerky and tannin to those above. The co-ferment gives both wines an intoxicating blue-purple hue. Fresh summer reds to drink cold and fresh. Yes, snuggling with the Sancerre or Riesling to the opening time is possible! Best within two years of its release.

2020 Syrah So Hot (US $42) Another wine from the So Fresh series, the hint of Viognier from Crunchy, is not present in this cuvee, and consequently, it is more intense in terms of aromas, color, and tastes. More somber, animal-like, and saline than the peppery and floral nuances of the co-ferments. The wine is more concentrated and has an abundance of Acidity. This is the perfect way to introduce carbonic wines for a typical Syrah drinker. Contrary to what it is called, the wine is ideal for drinking chilled and in its early stages, although its structure makes it easy to taste it again when heated.

2020 Estate Syrah (US $32) The basic wine of Stolpman’s classic Syrah program. Syrah’s estate is aged and dark-fruited, including bacon fat, blueberries, saddle leather, and lavender. It’s more affluent than So Fresh wines; there’s a pleasant, sweet edge to keep the soft fruits and tannins under control. Ballard Canyon tattoos both the bottle as well as the palate. It’s a bold statement, particularly at this price. A classic Santa Barbara Syrah is to enjoy at the cellar’s temperature (60 degrees Fahrenheit 16° Celsius) in the next ten years.

Melville Winery

A Pinot home with a front-row seat to the boom post-Sideways, Melville is nestled on the soft and sandy hills of northern Santa Rita Hills AVA, approximately midway across Ballard Canyon and the Pacific Ocean. There’s more than just the sand which reflects this sandy terroir. In this area, we exchange Stolpman’s oak tree and the golden ridges for hillsides covered with fog and eucalyptus, with a breeze of agricultural air that blows occasionally. This appellation has lower temperatures and a unique growing season. It’s Pinot country, through and through. However, Melville is to Santa Rita Hills Syrah the same way that Stolpman was in Ballard Canyon. When he began planting Syrah in the mid-1990s, shortly after the Stolpman vines, the founder Ron Melville shared Tom Stolpman’s pioneering spirit and refusal to move growing grapes into wine. But he was also convinced of the importance of estate wine as the best way forward, and production started quickly in 2000. Initially, they were made in a more ripe style; the latest Melville Syrahs are characterized by less oak and more whole-cluster integration. They have become a symbol of the region.

In the middle of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation in Santa Barbara County, Melville, currently has 120 acres under vine.

2019. Estate Syrah (US $40) It is sourced from across the Santa Rita Hills estate; dust of black pepper and herb stemminess result in the compote of berries and iron. It is restrained on the palate and cooling climate, and the airy sandy character of this part of Santa Rita Hills is tangible. The sand-bred and whole-cluster grainy tannins persist. A lighter style of Ballard Canyon that still feels like a classic Syrah. Fresh and refreshing Acidity is likely to last until 2030.

2020 Estate Syrah, Donna’s Block (US $62) Similar profile as the estate Syrah with a higher octane level, but stepped up a level. The floral and olive brine tones on top of cracked black pepper and dark-chocolate-covered blueberries. The wine is more fragrant and more decadent than the Estate Syrah. Garrigue and pine create gorgeous aromas, while the palate contains salinity and herbs. It is an unambiguous declaration that is Santa Rita Hills Syrah. Presenting well, it will likely continue to age gracefully over the next ten years, possibly even longer. Both Melville Syrahs perform best when temperatures are 16 degrees Celcius.


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