Two Shepherds 2011 Russian River Valley Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah 13.5% ABV

A nice long desert vacation and the start of the SF Giants season has left me a little behind in wine posts but I wanted to get back in the swing of things with one of my favorite California wineries to come about in the last few years.

The Two Shepherds Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah is everything I love about well-made cool-climate Californian Syrah.  It still has that bright and deliciously pure California sunshine-y fruit but it also has some savory and secondary aromas that give it complexity and interest.  On the nose, I get some aromas of fresh plum and strawberry and a fair amount of minerality.  There are hints of anise in the background too.  The mid-palate is elegant and has a great combination of body and acidity.  The finish is beautifully bright and savory and hints to the aging potential of this wine.  Like many of the cooler climate styles of Syrah that I’ve tasted for this blog, it’s a red wine that would go well with lighter fair.  You don’t have to wait until you barbeque a steak with this Syrah, it’s ready to drink with your roast chicken, even salmon, or (at least in our house) the ubiquitous sautéed chicken breast.

William showing wine

Two Shepherds owner and winemaker William Allen

Two Shepherds is the love child of wine blogger William Allen.  Allen started the Simple Hedonisms wine blog in the mid 2000s and eventually decided to “…put his money where his keyboard was by planting a vineyard and starting a micro-winery.”  He moved up to Healdsburg to make wines that he felt celebrated California fruit and weren’t masked with oak and unnecessary additions.  2010 was Allen’s first vintage under the Two Shepherds label.  Allen is not a natural winemaker but he does believe in a minimalist approach.  Keeping the wine in neutral oak barrels is an integral part of his approach to winemaking because Allen feels that the wine gets body from the oak but doesn’t develop any of the oak flavors that mask the fruit.

Allen attributes his revelation as to how good California wine could be by having tasted a Grenache Blanc from Paso Robles winemaker Anthony Yount.  The Grenache was treated in a way that gave it body but also made it light on its feet and balanced for his palate.  In an email to me Allen described why he liked the wine so much, “It was the fact that the Grenache Blanc was made in a style that was both textural and complex, as well as bright and acid driven. Most California Grenache Blanc is either bright and linear, or over-ripe and flabby. When it became hard to find many others doing similar, it became one of the cores of Two Shepherds.”  That one wine became an inspiration to him and set him forth on a path to explore how he could make wines with California fruit that also bridged the gap between complexity, body, and acidity.

thief from concrete egg

Tasting from concrete egg

On a recent visit to Two Shepherds Winery, Allen was excited about his new concrete eggs that he hoped would give him another way to ferment the wine without imparting extraneous flavor.  Allen is zealous about his wine and gave us a great tour of his small operation.  What I find most interesting and exciting about his wines is that they are so different from many of the California wines that exist these days– the higher acidity and elegance combined with the texturally weighty body illustrates how William was, in fact, able to achieve that goal that he set for himself.  I’ve had other Syrah from Saralee’s vineyards and this wine is unique. Although he focuses on Rhone varietals, William will be making some Cabernet Franc in the coming year to show how his house style can elevate its somewhat suspect reputation in California.

tasting with William

It was a pleasure to taste the Two Shepherds Syrah and I can’t wait to see how this winery will develop in the future.  The combination of acidity and body is a rare and special one in many California wines and one that I am constantly looking for. I’m glad to have found it.

This wine was provided as a media sample.

Thank you to Rick LaRocca for the wonderful pictures. 

8 thoughts on “Two Shepherds 2011 Russian River Valley Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah 13.5% ABV

  1. Heartfelt thanks for the nice words Cyrus, as well as your focus on Syrah. Cool climate syrah is something I love dearly, and I hope one day I can do the Northern Rhone grape justice.

    It my first 100% Syrah, being released at our upcoming release and wine club pickup, Sat April 20th in Santa Rosa – I am honored to make your list.

    Saralee’s Vineyard is a very special place in Russian River Valley, and this syrah is picked on a hillside, adjacent to Pinot Noir. The RRV is a perfect region for Syrah, but alas what little there is is often replanted by the ever dominant Pinot Noir, something the AVA itself is solidly behind. The Grenache Noir from it, is also amazing, and actually very Pinot Noir like.

    Congratulations on your blog’s focus and success, its one I look for, and as the ‘Palate Shepherd’ look forward to sharing with others, and reading your discoveries.

    cheers and see you in May for the “Other 7%” event!

    • Thanks William, is was a pleasure to taste the wine. It’s definitely right in “my wheelhouse”. I agree about Russian River Valley being a sweet spot for Syrah and wish there was more of it. Yours and some of the Donelan wines (the Kobler) are the best examples I’ve tried so far. And yes, see you in May!

  2. Well written post on one of the best producers in the region. The GB is the best CA GB I’ve tasted and I agree with William in that many show very bright. Opening his wines are a special occasion waiting to happen.

  3. Nice writeup, Cy. I had the opportunity to meet and taste with William last fall. I immediately joined his club and have enjoyed my first batch of his wines. I’m looking forward to the Syrah!

  4. Pingback: MacLaren 2010 Judge Family Vineyard Bennett Valley Syrah 13% ABV $38 | sólosyrah

  5. Pingback: Two Shepherds 2012 Russian River Valley Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah 13.2% ABV $38 | sólosyrah

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