2014 Deep Sea Syrah, Arroyo Grande Valley
We produced our first Syrah in 2008 with grapes from the vineyards at Rancho Arroyo Grande in the Arroyo Grande Valley. Despite multiple challenges in the vineyard (early frost, small crop and unprecedented heat spikes) the wine we made from this challenging vineyard site evolved into a beautiful expression of Syrah. During this process, I became enamored of this particular site, and of the Syrah grape. That vintage of Syrah inspired a passion for producing this varietal in a style that blended the rustic, earthly attributes of classic Rhone varietals with the ripe berry and spiced fruit notes that can found in some California Syrahs.
The Potrero Vineyard is located on the Rancho Arroyo Grande property, planted between two ridgelines at 1,200ft elevation. The view overlooks the valley floor vineyards, and in the distance, a portion of Lake Lopez. The Potrero is dry-farmed, so there is no irrigation. The vines receive only natural rainfall for moisture, and this lack of water has a positive effect on the vines. It means smaller crop yields, fewer clusters per-vine, and smaller clusters, but the berries that are formed on these vines in their stressed and somewhat dehydrated condition are packed with concentrated sugars and acid. The flavors are powerful and intense. The last few drought years have had an impact on this vineyard site, but because these vines are used to very little water, this impact was arguably less significant than on neighboring irrigated vineyards. The perseverance of the vines in this dry-farmed vineyard is impressive, their roots have grown down six to eight feet below the soil surface, and when the brix and acid levels are at the right levels, the flavors are phenomenal. Historically, the wines from this site have been well received. Our 2007 Mourvedre from the Potrero Vineyard was mentioned by Matt Kramer in The Wine Spectator, as one of his “Top Ten Wines of the Year”.
The 2014 growing season was calm, sunny, and temperate. After multiple visits to the vineyard, I was determined to make Syrah from this site. Due to the Potrero Vineyard’s sandy soil profile, as well as being dry-farmed, the crop is naturally limited, with no need for crop thinning. We harvested just under 4 tons of Syrah. The small, dark berries were perfectly formed, resembling black marbles. The clusters were de-stemmed and meticulously hand-sorted by our crew of family members and our winemaker, Andrew Adam. We were stunned by the flavors in the grapes as they came onto the sorting table. We knew that this year would be special, and that we would give this lot the meticulous care and attention it deserved. With this vineyard site, it was entirely probable that we could achieve the style and level of quality we desired.
We incorporated a two-stage yeast inoculation using a favored yeast strain, Prelude, in the beginning. The must was gently pumped over then later switched into morning and afternoon punch-downs. This Syrah was so sturdy and intense we used close to 44% new French oak with Vicard, Marsannay and Ermitage, all with slightly heavier barrel toast levels- and the balance into neutral French oak barrels. Never racked during its entire elevage, this blend was aged on its lees for roughly 19 months then bottled unfined and unfiltered.