I’ll admit that since I’ve started this blog, I’ve been quite surprised at how much more cool-climate Syrah there is in California than I’d previously imagined. I thought of myself as somewhat of an expert (thus, the blog) but I’m finding out there are a lot more wineries making cool-climate Syrah and my wine fridge is beginning to overflow with new and exciting finds.
Aldrich Browne, for example, is a winery that was nowhere near my radar. My wife bought it as a birthday bottle for me at Draeger’s Market here in San Mateo. It turns out they make wine from the Mendocino Ridge appellation, also a Drew Wines vineyard source, and an area that is quickly becoming one of my favorite appellations for the kind of savory Syrahs that I love so much. These are high altitude coastal wines that really are grown on the edge of their ability to ripen. Like Peay Vineyards, Drew Wines, Wind Gap Wines, and Matello (in Oregon) these are grapes that take a long time to ripen and (in theory) develop more complexity because of the longer time that they hang on the vines.
Aldrich Browne is the project of Ciara Meaney and Kimberly Ventre. Ciara has a background in wine and most recently worked in marketing for Jackson Family wines and then went on to the Culinary Institute of America to pursue her love of food and wine. Kimberly brings a marketing perspective to the project, having worked in marketing for Gap and then starting her own marketing consulting firm.
Aldrich Browne is a start-up in every sense of the word and at this point Kimberly and Ciara do almost everything. Right now they are borrowing the winemaking facility of Peay Vineyards in Cloverdale. Aldrich Browne is keeping the name of their winemaker close to the vest right now and for whatever reason would not share his or her name. Hopefully I will be able to update this in the future.
Ciara and Kimberly were drawn to the Mendocino Ridge appellation based on their love of Syrah from the Rhone region of France. They sensed that the appellation could offer the combination of fruit, spice, and acidity that would make the wine food-friendly. In Kimberly’s own words, they felt that Mendocino Ridge offered the possibility for “…more intense solar radiation combined with cooler climate (created) more spice, less berry, more complexity (and an) end product that is not so heavy and over bearing it becomes boring.” As you can tell, she is speaking my language.
Aldrich Browne’s non-interventionist winemaking process is also an extension of their belief in making a Syrah that isn’t “heavy and overbearing”. They use larger 500 liter puncheons to make the wine, thus moderating the oak contact and they never use more than 20% new French oak. Right now, they add yeast but would like to explore using native yeast in the future. Additionally, they don’t add acid or sugar to this wine.
The thing that strikes me so much about this wine right off the bat is how floral it is. I also smell the textbook plum, unripe blackberry, and olive tapenade aromas. There is also a slight herbaceous aroma, almost like celery or parsley, which when it’s enveloped in all that fruit, adds a complexity to the wine that I really enjoy. As I’ve mentioned before, cool-climate Syrahs are not wines with straight fruit, but rather fruit wrapped in other savory and interesting complexities. Their ability to bring some off-fruit aromas to the table really make them incredibly food-friendly. As the wine opened up I also got some strawberry aromas on the nose.
On the palate the wine has smoky meat characteristics and a freshness that I really enjoy. It has some serious acidity and the crunchy tannins on the finish make my mouth dry, which again, is good for food. The tannins are definitely present but not too harsh and in fact, the finish is reminiscent of pomegranates mixed with plums. Does that sound good? I hope so, ‘cause it is.
It’s neat to see a new winery taking the plunge and just making a cool-climate Syrah. This is a project where Syrah is not taking a back seat but rather is front and center and it will be exciting to see where the project goes from here. They plan to release a Perli Vineyard Syrah for the 2010 vintage and it will be interesting to compare it with the Donkey and Goat and Drew wines that I’ve had from the same vineyard. Onward and upward with Syrah!