Model Farm 2014 Sonoma Coast Syrah $45.00, 12.6% ABV, 97 pts

One of the best things about having a blog like this is that it encourages me to take a chance on wines I’ve never heard of and it’s even better when I find out that they’re really good. Obviously this used to happen a lot more when I started this blog but the other day I picked up a bottle of a Syrah I’d never seen before at the Boonville Hotel in Anderson Valley. I was intrigued by the 12.6% ABV as I tend towards those lower alcohol styles of Syrah.

This beauty is a dead ringer for a Northern Rhone Syrah or even a Wind Gap Nellessen or Sonoma Coast Syrah. Olive, bramble, and graceful fresh fruit jump out of the glass. Earth and mineral mixed in there too. Perfectly balanced on the palate, not too much acid or tannin and energetic and full at the same time. Whole cluster deliciousness. This wine definitely surprised me, glad I took a leap of faith. Cool-climate Syrah lovers need to seek this out.

Photos courtesy of Joanna Wells

Model Farm is the project of winemakers Joanna Wells and Sean Castorani. Joanna is also assistant winemaker at Kutch wines and Sean is assistant winemaker at Rhys Vineyard. They are engaged to be married and have been wanting to start a small project on their own, so in 2013 they took a lease on a two-acre Syrah vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. The vineyard hasn’t had any name recognition but it is sometimes referred to as the Fuller vineyard. Sean and Joanna farmed the two acres by hand organically. They do 100% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation, foot stomping and also foot punchdowns. The barrique is 100% neutral oak for 18 months and the wines are unfiltered and unfined.

I’m thrilled to find a new wine that I enjoyed this much and I can’t wait to see how this project and this special vineyard progress under such skilled tutelage.

Drew Family Wines Syrah Tasting

On a recent trip to the Anderson Valley I had the opportunity to check in with Jason Drew at Drew Family Cellars. Jason happily decided to mark my visit by basically pulling out every vintage (except for the 2010) of Valenti Syrah for us to taste. I’ve been a big fan of Jason’s Syrah for a long time and I count his Valenti Ranch Syrah as one of the best domestic Syrahs I’ve ever tasted. As you can imagine it was a special experience.

The Valenti wines are made with some whole cluster, native fermentation, and neutral oak. The vineyard is located in the Mendocino Ridge Appellation. Because the grapes are in a cool-climate area they are sometimes picked as late as Jason can wait before the rains. Other times, in warmer years, they are picked in order to retain acidity. Jason likes wines with acidity and energy so the wines reflect that both stylistically and also because of the simple practicalities of the vineyard.

Here are the wines in the order we tasted them:

2009 Valenti Syrah, olive and blackberry character with a tad of baking spice, this is a wine that is ready to drink right now. 30% whole cluster and 13.8% alcohol.

2011 Valenti Syrah, A cool vintage that brings out even more Northern Rhone character in the wine, more minerality and a more austere wine for sure. This wine is 100% whole cluster because Jason liked the looks of the stems that year and also felt like the thinner skins on the grapes meant that they could take on a little stem tannin and not be over the top.

2012 Valenti, this was my favorite of the tasting because it had all that ripeness and accessibility of the 2009 but combined with the cool-climate character of the 2011. It’s a red-fruited syrah with a savory meatiness to it also. 40% whole cluster

2013 Valenti, more herbal character than the previous vintage but a tad more open on the palate. The drought year led the grapes to have a thinner skin so the wine isn’t as tannic as previous years.

2014 Valenti, very fresh fruit and bright with olive and some drying tannin. This was a thicker skin vintage. There’s a thread of energy in these wines that I think defines Drew’s style of making wine. The wines have a lift in them that’s unique for a lot of California syrah.

2015 Valenti, More pepper, again with a black olive aroma and a touch of baking spices.

2016 Valenti, still in barrel has aromas of fresh smoke, and that characteristic olive character. Jason’s excited about the ’16 vintage.

We also got to taste two vintages of the Perli Syrah. This is a tad richer Syrah from a warmer Mendocino Ridge site that sees 50% new oak from a large puncheon.

2014 Perli has less acid in the mid-palate than the Valenti. There’s an interesting aroma of blood orange mixed with fresh blackberries and white pepper on the finish.

2015 Perli is more mineral-driven, with aromas of stone fruit, and again less acid but good tannic grip.

2016 Perli, still in barrel was still going through malolactic but has a beautiful core of blackberry.

If you are into Syrah (and you probably are if you are reading this blog) Drew Family Syrahs are a must try. Valenti Ranch is a special site and although there’s a fair amount of vintage variation on these wines, there’s an undercurrent of minerality, black olive, and blackberry that carries through every vintage. Thanks Jason Drew for taking me through the vintages. It was a special treat. I’ll be writing more in-depth tasting notes for a few more Drew Family wines soon, so stay tuned.

Thanks for the time and the tasting Jason Drew.