Bennett Valley is quickly becoming another interesting spot for Syrah. Just like the Yorkville Highlands, it’s one of those in-between areas, not exactly cool climate but also not exactly warm climate. The elevation along with cooling influences from the Pacific Ocean adds to the potential for long ripening and for a Syrah that develops those delicious secondary off-fruit flavors that I love. Precedent’s winemaker Nathan writes about the unique characteristics of the Bennett Valley on his website. “This valley is greatly affected by the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean. This ensures moderate temperatures during crucial periods of maturation; heat spikes around harvest have ruined more grapes than we like to admit in California. We are able to get riper flavors, with higher acidity at lower sugars than many other parts of the north coast.” And that really is the driving characteristic of this area – it’s ability to bring some of that ripeness but maintain that acidity and savory-ness that makes Syrah truly what it’s supposed to be.
The wine: there is some dark, big fruit here but also classic cool-climate aromas of black olive, plum, a tiny hint of oak. Also, some fairly pervasive minerality and something I haven’t smelled often on these wines — the best description I can come up with is that it smells like slightly smoky leaves. The palate is dry with persistent tannins and a hint of alcohol (although on the second day the alcohol blew off completely). The finish has a nice dry lift on the end with a fair amount of acidity. Suffice to say this is a wine made for aging.
Precedent’s winemaker is Nathan Kandler, and right now he is also an associate winemaker at Thomas Fogarty in the Santa Cruz foothills. Precedent Wine is his side project and first solo project. He believes in a low-interventionist style of winemaking that emphasizes neutral oak, whole cluster fermentation and native yeasts.
This wine was made with 50% whole cluster, crushed by foot to get fermentation going, and with native yeasts then basket pressed into barrels. The Syrah was aged for quite a while in barrel (about 15% new oak), and in fact, wasn’t bottled until 2010. The wine saw very minute amounts of sulpher and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. Only 140 cases of this wine was made. I managed to find my bottle at Robert’s Market in Woodside, CA.
I look forward to trying more examples of Syrah from Bennett Valley, along with the Sonoma Mountain and Yorkville Highlands examples. I think they could really win bigger style wine drinkers over because they still have a fair amount of ripe fruit mixed in with all that savory goodness.