Domaine Clusel-Roch Côte-Rôtie


The affable and knowledgeable Brigitte Roch.

Meeting Brigitte Roch was one of the great pleasures of our trip to the Northern Rhone. She’s a joy to be around and we thoroughly delighted in our time with her. Clusel-Roch is a Côte-Rôtie winery that makes traditionally styled (employing some new techniques) elegant wines. Brigitte’s husband Gilbert Clusel’s family started in the wine business three generations back and Gilbert inherited a small portion of Côte-Rôtie’s Grandes Places vineyard from Gilbert’s father Rene and started making wine. They’ve secured other vineyards for fruit as the years have gone on. Gilbert and Brigitte’s son Guillaume also does a lot of the work in the winery. The day we visited father and son were out tying errant grapevine stalks to the triangular-shaped posts that are favored in Côte-Rôtie.

cote rotie vines

The vines right behind the Clusel-Roch Domaine

Guillaume has also started a small project of making wine from the Coteaux du Lyonnais appellation that lies between Lyon and Vienne. Guillaume found an old abandoned vineyard of Gamay and has made a go at making a less-expensive wine that he’s been able to put his own stamp on. The Gamay was impressive and tasted just as good as many high end Beaujolais that I’ve had (although admittedly I haven’t had a whole lot of high end Beaujolais). Guillaume also made a pleasant rosé using the saignee method from the same grapes as the Gamay.

On to the Syrah and the real reason we came to see Brigitte. The Clusel-Roch Cuvee Classique is made with native yeast fermentation, gravity fed, punched down twice a day and basket-pressed after one month on the skins. It spends two years in barrel (20% new) and is bottled at the beginning of harvest usually in September.

The design of the winery allows the grapes to be brought in through the outside doors at the top level and then gravity fed into the tanks. 

The property that Gilbert and Brigitte own is all massale-selected vines from the original “Serine” clone of Syrah from Côte-Rôtie. They graft this variety from the original plantings from the Les Grandes Places vineyard. Not a whole lot is known about the origin of this “O.G.” clone of Syrah but there’s little doubt that it makes the best Syrah on the planet, or at least the Syrah that best fits the Côte-Rôtie appellation. According to Brigitte, the townships of the Côte-Rôtie area spoke a dialect before the Romans arrived that was called Serine, so the name goes back to the beginning of the region. Gilbert and Brigitte were instrumental in the 1990s in the push for more massale selection when many vineyards began to be planted over to clones. Brigitte thinks that the preservation of the Serine clone that is unique to the Côte-Rôtie is integral to the preservation of the tradition of exemplary Syrah for the region. She believes it’s a more complex and floral Syrah than the clonal varieties that were introduced and some experiments they performed in the winery bore this out. They’ve also found that the modern clones of Syrah are too vigorous for the tight spacing that Côte-Rôtie employs and tend to grow too quickly and aggressively for them to keep them in check. The Serine vines seem to fit the land.

Brigitte has also been instrumental in getting the region mapped out. In fact, before the region was officially mapped by the appropriate French authority, Brigitte drew it all out by hand. She even color-coded for soil type.

brigitte roch handrawn map

Brigitte’s beautiful hand-drawn map of Côte-Rôtie.


The famed schist in the soils of Côte-Rôtie.

The Clusel-Roch family are also proponents of organic farming. In Côte-Rôtie, being organic is not just a simple matter. The steep slopes make chemical weed spraying a difficult-to-resist temptation. But they noticed the negative impact spraying had on the soil and the vines so they decided to commit to plowing by hand and on the steepest slopes they use a winch to help pull the plow up the row as it is hand guided from behind.

We tried the 2013, 2006, and 2005 Classiques and the 2013 Vialliére and Les Grandes Places. The Vialliére and the Grandes Places are vinified similarly to the Classiques. All the wines were spectacular with bright acidity and lots of floral aromas. These are such elegant Syrahs with the structure to age for a very long time. I found them to be a little light in the mid-palate which might be something that fleshes out as the wine ages as the 2005 proved a tad richer than the other vintages. The 2013 Les Grandes Places was a special pleasure to taste as it had the structure and mid-palate richness that one expects from Syrah but also the unmistakable floral element of a Côte-Rôtie. Such a gorgeous wine. The Classiques were also hard to beat and we purchased a 2013 and a 2005 and look forward to tasting the wine again in a few years (or more!) and thinking of our time with the affable Brigitte.

Jamsheed Harem La Syrah Yarra Valley Victoria $25 92 pts.

Jamsheed Harem

I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid and one of the ones I loved the most was Pinky and the Brain. Pinky (or was it Brain?) had a saying when an alluring mouse of the opposite sex came along, “Hellloooooo Nurse! “ Well, that’s the first thing that came out of my mouth when I tasted this wine. It’s just plain alluring and delicious. It’s one of those wines that before you know it, you’ve drunk more than you anticipated you would.

A little oak on the nose, a little earth, but also a rich and inviting aroma of fruit that’s reminiscent of blackberry pie. Now, normally, that’s not necessarily a Syrah that I’d be totally into but this wine is just so pretty on the palate. It’s got some savory and meaty notes and a little richness but also just a beautiful acidity that makes you want to keep drinking it.

It’s a vision of the future for Syrah in Australia. A touch of that oak and sweetness but good lift on the mid-palate to keep it interesting and savory. What a wine!

Jamsheed’s been around for about a decade and I kept hearing rumors of a cooler climate style Australian Syrah that was worth trying. They make a few single vineyard Syrahs that are higher priced. This one’s a blend of grapes from Pyrenees (80%) and Yarra Valley (20%) areas of Australia. It’s 80% whole cluster and spends time in big puncheons old and new.

2012 La Rosine M&S Ogier D’Ampuis $30 12.5% ABV 91 pts.


Let’s talk about crunchiness in wine. Some wines, especially Syrah grown in cool climates, have a quality that reminds me of biting into a piece of fresh fruit. The first Syrah that I really liked was like that, it had almost a crunchy pomegranate quality. This wine has that. There’s tension and verve, beautiful high-toned aromas of plum, pepper and gravel with an acidic lift on the mid-palate that is almost Pinot-like. The finish is more acid than tannin. It’s an elegant Syrah that has a freshness to it that’s hard to resist.

The Ogier family started making wine after years as growers for Guigal. Michel Ogier made his own bottling of the vineyards and now his son Stephane is the winemaker.

The wine is aged in neutral oak barrels for one year. No stem inclusion, light maceration to minimize over-extraction.

Collines Rhodaniennes is a rather new appellation in the Northern Rhone and for now it’s a great way to get to know wines from the Northern Rhone without breaking the bank.

Ogier is getting quite the reputation and the Northern Rhone. I’m looking forward to getting to know this producer more.

2012 Keller Estate Rotie Sonoma Coast Syrah $54

keller estate rotie

Aromas of leather, plum, strawberry, and cigar mixed with vanilla.The oak is a little pronounced for my palate but after the wine breathed a bit the fruit and savory elements became more pronounced.The palate has a lift of acidity that gives the wine a light and elegant character. There’s a touch of tannin and sweetness on the finish that reveals its California origins but as the name implies there is a European sense about this wine also. 92 pts.

Keller Estate is owned by Arturo and Deborah Keller. Arturo fell in love with the hills of the Petaluma Gap and bought the land there back in the 1980s. The property is now planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The Petaluma Gap is an area defined by wind and fog. Every morning the fog collects in the valley and then is blown out in the afternoon by the intense cool coastal air as it rushes to warmer inland areas. Arturo’s daughter, Ana, took over the winemaking in 1998 and she says that it’s sometimes a challenge to ripen the Syrah. They also grow Viognier on the property and have to manage thinning the leaf canopy on the Syrah to get it to mature while doing the opposite on the Viognier to keep it from getting over-ripe too early.

The Syrah and 6-7% Viognier are co-fermented, there’s no whole cluster stem-inclusion on the wine. It sees about 25% new oak and spends 18 months in barrel.

Although the wine says Sonoma Coast, it really is a Petaluma Gap Syrah and Ana Keller has devoted a lot of energy to showing how her area deserves to be its own appellation. She and other growers and vintners have petitioned the government and wait for what seems to be an inevitable ruling in their favor. In the meantime Ana holds Petaluma Gap tastings to further interest consumers in what she believes are wines uniquely shaped by the wind and fog.

This is a Petaluma Gap Syrah that represents the Petaluma Gap well and I was excited to have the opportunity to taste it.

This wine was provided as a sample for purposes of review. 

Arnot-Roberts 2013 Syrah North Coast

I have to admit that it’s been kind of tough to get into my red wines lately. It’s been hot. Too hot for reds and they’ve bided their time in my little wine fridge while I’ve been gulping down white and rosé waiting for the weather to cool.

I finally decided to give a red wine some attention the other day when the weather cooled a bit and I chose the Arnot-Roberts 2013 North Coast Syrah. It’s a wine that’s made from some of the top Syrah vineyards in the state, including La Cruz, Baker Lane, Clary Ranch, Marietta, Griffin’s Lair, and even some fruit from the Que Syrah vineyard, Arnot-Roberts recent acquisition near Occidental, that some say is the coolest Syrah site in the state.

arnot-roberts 2013 syrah

Talk about minerality in red wine, this Syrah has it in spades. It’s bright (it almost vibrates with energy), it’s fresh and it’s delicious. My only complaint is that its a little one-dimensional. It’s all citrussy-bright plum and gravel but little in the way of deep flavors. Being a 2013 might just mean that the wine needs some time to develop. There’s a hint of smokiness and pepper on the nose to counteract all those primary fruit flavors but not much else at the moment.

I like this wine though and I’d probably buy a lot of it if it wasn’t $40. It’s reminiscent of a good St. Joseph, many of which are in that price range, so maybe it’s priced right where you’d expect. In fact, if you’re a lover of St. Joseph Syrah this might be just the wine for you. No new oak, just pure, energetic flavors of good Syrah. As I’m writing, I think I’m talking myself into liking the wine more because, in comparison to the over-oaked Syrah that’s so prevalent, this is actually a great example of what California can (and should) do with Syrah. I just wish it had a little more weight to it. It’s kind of like the new Beirut album, fresh and fun but without a whole lot of substance. And that’s okay because sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

Sólosyrah: Comparing Syrah and Indie Rock Since September of 2015

Wine Blog Awards 2015


I’ve been nominated as a finalist for a Wine Blog Award in the category of Single Subject Wine Blog! For those of you who follow this space, I’d appreciate it if you’d head over to this survey and vote for me. It feels great to be recognized for what’s now over three years of blog posts about the variety that I love so much. Thanks so much and thanks for being a loyal reader all these years. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about the best cool-climate Syrah from around the world.

Here’s the survey link:

Thanks again!



2013 Waxwing Santa Cruz Mountains Lester Family Vineyard Syrah

2013 Lester family Syrah better

The Lester Family Syrah is one of the more interesting cool-climate Syrahs I’ve encountered for this blog. I know it well, I’ve been helping out at Scott Sisemore’s little winery in San Carlos, CA for a couple of years now.

The 2012 Waxwing has an unmistakable aroma of green peppercorn on the nose which has made it something of a niche wine. I have the sense that it’s a wine that will integrate more over time so I’ve got a few bottles put away for safe-keeping. For the moment though, if you’re not a fan of green peppercorn, the Syrah can be seen as a tad too exotic.

With the 2013 vintage, for whatever reason, there’s less of that green peppercorn. It’s there but it’s couched in bitter chocolate and brambly black berry aromas. There are aromas of meat, too, and an intriguing bit of iodine in the background. The palate is full but light with a bit of a dusty, tobacco-y finish and the tannins are, right now, surprisingly approachable for a 2013 Syrah. This is good stuff and speaks to the potential of the Lester Family Vineyard to produce Syrah not just for wine geeks who like to #keepsyrahweird, but also for those just looking for a balanced and intriguing wine.

Scott has recently moved out of a shared winery space into a smaller dedicated warehouse for his winery and has by necessity adopted more of an old world method for making his wine. There simply isn’t room for the larger equipment he used when he shared space and costs with other winemakers. All the wines are now crushed by foot and they’re all 100% whole cluster. To me, all this makes for compelling wines.

The Lester Family Vineyard is located just behind the town of Corralitos south of Santa Cruz. The area has become known for Pinot but, as is the case with many of the cooler-climate growing areas in California, there’s great Syrah to be had there too. The vineyard is influenced by fog due to its proximity to the coast. It’s managed by the ubiquitous Prudy Foxx who looks after many vineyards in that area with meticulous care.

When Scott first relocated to the peninsula from Sonoma County, he kept many vineyard connections with that area but he’s gone through a bit of a shift living down here and has moved towards more vineyards in the Santa Cruz and farther south in Arroyo Seco and the Santa Lucia Highlands. I’m excited about this southward progression because I think there’s great potential for wine with a cool-climate bent along the coastal hills south of the Bay Area.

Lester Family Syrah bears this out. It has a distinct aroma profile, vintage after vintage, that makes it one of the more fascinating New World Syrahs I’ve ever tried.

Pining for a trip to the Northern Rhone: Two 2010 Saint Joseph Syrahs

It’s no secret that this blog has been mostly focused on California, a few years ago I started writing about Syrah from other parts of the world but, probably because I live in California, that Golden State focus has endured. I believe that wine is really more interesting when you know its context and although I enjoy wines from the Northern Rhone, I have yet to make a trip there. I definitely want to go in the near future and make that pilgrimage to Syrah’s birthplace. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying the gorgeous French wines available here in the States and hope that will provide enough interest for these posts.

St. Joseph is the lighter more playful side of the Northern Rhone. The wines go with lots of different types of food (even fish). They are generally less tannic, less big, but perhaps just as serious as wines from Hermitage, Cornas, or Côte-Rôtie.

domaine courbis

2010 Saint-Joseph Domain Courbis ABV 13%

Beautiful honeysuckle aromas on the nose mixed with some earthy tobacco aromas. There’s a sweetness on the nose that translates to a very dry mid-palate. This is what I love about St. Joseph. It has floral aroma but great acidity makes it super food friendly. We had it with some homemade carne asada tacos and it worked well. The finish is not too tannic but there are tannins there.

The Courbis grapes are de-stemmed and the wine is aged in neutral oak casks.

etienne becheras

2010 Etienne Becheras Saint-Joseph Le Prieure d’Arras, Rhone, France ABV 13%

Again, an elegant wine that smells sweet but finishes dry. Not as dry as the previous wine but also has beautiful acidity on the mid-palate. There’s just a gorgeous sweet plum aroma on the nose that is so cool-climate Syrah. The tannins are there but they exist in the background and this makes the wine, like most Saint Josephs, very versatile with food. This Syrah would pretty much go with anything you’d serve a Pinot with. It’s light and easy to drink but it’s not an insubstantial wine, it has a lot of complexity and interest, again very similar to Pinot.

This wine is made with indigenous yeast fermentation and aged in various sizes of neutral oak barrels. The grapes are de-stemmed.

If you like Syrah, you need to check out wines from St. Joseph. They are often in the lower price range (both these wines retail for under $30) in comparison with the other star appellations in the Northern Rhone but they are beautiful, elegant expressions of Syrah. Meanwhile, I’ll go back to pining for a trip to Syrah’s ancestral home.

The 2014 Rhone Rangers Bay Area Tasting: Spotlight on Syrah

Umm, yes, I’d like to taste some wine with this view.

The annual Bay Area Rhone Rangers tasting is a great way for me to get a sense of the state of Syrah in California. Although it’s usually missing some of my favorite Syrah producers like Peay, Arnot-Roberts, and Failla it still has a growing cadre of cool-climate Syrah aficionados that make it a great place to check in on Syrah. This year’s tasting was my favorite so far. The location at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond was beautiful and the wineries were spread out well to allow for a lot of elbow room and a lot of face-to-face contact with winemakers. The crowd wasn’t too big (great for those of us there, but maybe not for the wineries) and although there were a few noticeably inebriated people there seemed to be less general drunkenness than in previous years.


The beautiful Craneway Pavilion in the Richmond Marina

It’s nice to have a plan when going into big events like this and for me the plan was to taste a lot of Syrah. I checked in with the handful of producers that are doing Syrah in the style I appreciate but was also keen to find some new producers doing a cooler-climate style.

Here’s a list and brief description of wines that I tasted at this year’s Rhone Rangers that most represent the lower alcohol, cooler climate style that I love some much. The wines below are organized by the order in which I tasted them.
Kieran Robinson Wines

I’ve written about this wine before but Kieran Robinson’s 2010 Bennett Valley Vivio Syrah is a great example of elegant Syrah. The wine has mid-palate lift and some great olive and red fruit aromas. The 2009 was a bigger wine from the same vineyard with more of a meaty chocolate profile. The ’11 just got bottled and will come in at about 13.3% ABV and the 2012 at 14.3% ABV. Kieran says that this type of vintage variation is common in Bennett Valley; you pick it when it’s ripe.
Terre Rouge

Terre Rouge in an old Syrah house that wasn’t on my radar until last year’s Rhone Rangers event. Bill Easton makes spectacular Syrahs from special spots in the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. His lower end wines tend to see less oak and are made for easier drinking with an emphasis on fruit and lower tannins. His higher end Syrahs are more tannic and see a lot more new oak and are meant to age.

The 2010 Les Cotes de l’Quest was actually my favorite from the tasting because of that judicious use of oak and had a bright and pure fruit profile.

The 2008 DTR Ranch is their estate wine and sees a little more new oak. The oak was mostly in check and the Syrah flavors came through nicely.

The 2008 Sentinel Oak was a much “bigger” wine with more tannins on the finish and more new oak. It’s still got great acidity though and I’m sure this is the kind of Syrah that could age for a long time (and already has) but for me I just would have liked to see the oak dialed back a tad.

The 2008 Ascent is that vintage’s example of their flagship wine. This wine spends 24 months in new oak. It had more of a blue fruit profile. I think this is a good wine for this style but again I think the new oak could be dialed back.

Although there’s no question in my mind that these are well-made Syrahs, my question is why not let the the pure fruit aromas come through more on the higher end wines keeping the new oak in check?
Two Shepherds

I love checking in on William’s wines and this was one of the few wineries where I tasted through all the wines. The whites were tasting beautifully and William’s curent release of reds seemed even more cohesive at this juncture then the last time I tasted them.

William does have a yet-to-be-released 2012 Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah that he let me taste off to the side. I really like this Syrah (especially after the Terre Rouge wines) because it only sees neutral oak so it’s a great example of how a completely unadulterated Syrah picked at low alcohol levels can bring forth the true character of the varietal. This wine is young and had just been opened so it was full of mouth-filling acidity but also really delicious fresh fruit character. It’s an elegant Syrah that sets itself apart because of its core of acidity. I can’t wait to taste it in about 6 months to see how it continues to evolve in bottle.
Fields Family Wines

Going from William’s Syrah with it’s bracing acidity to Ryan Sherman’s easy-drinking Lodi Syrah was a study in contrast. I won’t go on too much about them here because I’ve only recently done a blog post on them but I do want to say again I am struck by how Ryan achieves fresh fruit character in his wines in Lodi. Yes they are riper styles of Syrah but these are not big vanilla and blue fruit Syrahs. His judicious use of oak, well-timed picking decisions and the cooler site along the Mokelumne River Valley allow the wines to maintain a true Syrah character.


The affable Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Winery

Donelan Wines

I hadn’t checked in with Donelan since Tyler Thomas had moved on (link) and it was nice to meet new winemaker Joe Nielsen. Most of the Donelan wines aren’t exactly cool-climate but I was struck by their judicious use of new oak and a nice core of acidity that carried through all the Syrahs.

The 2011 Cuvee Christine is Donelan’s blend from different vineyards and is meant to illustrate the potential for Syrah in Sonoma County. It’s a nice fresh style of Syrah. Not too complex and intensely food friendly.

The 2011 Walker Hill, which I’d had before, was also well done with nice fresh fruit elements and surprising acidity.

The 2011 Richards (which was being poured at small samples off to the side) also showed enjoyable Syrah savory aromas and freshness even after spending 30 months in barrel.
Clos Saron

It was a pleasure to spend some time with Gideon Beinstock at Clos Saron. He’s the type of person I think I could sit and talk to for hours and someday I hope to get a chance to do just that at his winery in the Sierra Foothills. If you want to learn a lot more about the Clos Saron project then you’ve got to check out this excellent podcast with Levi Dalton.

All of Gideon’s Syrahs were great but I did get a common thread in the aroma profile that was both perplexing and alluring. The closest I can come to describing it is that it was almost like the aroma of a root beer candy, maybe mixed with a tootsie roll. I asked Gideon if he got any common thread of aroma through all the Syrah and although he didn’t say yes he did say that it was possible.  Gideon mentioned that it could be the native yeast from the winery and then he laughed and told me that possibly it was just his own stinky feet. (Gideon makes the wine in an old world style and still foot stomps the grapes.)  Regardless of how that interesting aroma got in there it’s clear it’s become part of the “terroir” of the Syrah.

The 2011 Stone Soup Syrah and 2009 Heart of Stone both had great cool-climate profile with savory aromas and a nice acidic core. The 2005 Heat of Stone was a bit more extracted and a riper style which Gideon attributed to an over exuberance on his part at this time of his winemaking career to extract big fruit and flavor from the grapes. He now works the grapes less (less punchdowns, less maceration) to make his wines more elegant and less “new world” in profile.
MacLaren Wine Company

I also checked in with Steve Law to get a chance to taste one of my favorite Syrahs, the 2010 Judge Family Bennett Valley Syrah. I think Steve did a great job with this wine and I’m always impressed with it’s freshness and aromas of salted plum and olive. It’s always a treat to taste.
Qupé Winery

Now these were the wines of the tasting for me.

As I mentioned before, this year’s event was less overwhelming than the previous years and I was thrilled to see that there was some space at the Qupe table for me to actually talk with Bob Lindquist and fawn over his Syrahs. I’d recently had a corked Qupe and one that was hopelessly infected with Brettanomyces so I was thrilled to get a chance to wash away those bad experiences with what I was hoping was some great Syrah.

I started off with the 2011 Bien Nacido Vineyard and boy was it tasting good. Elegant, floral, peppery and bright with a well-structured mid palate this was a delicious example of a classic site for Syrah.

The next wine was an iteration of Qupe’s famed Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. The 2011 Sawyer Lindquist “Sonnies” is an homage to Bob Lindquist’s mother and is a selection of the best blocks from the vineyard and the best barrels from those blocks. This wine was tasting spectacular. It had that perfect combination of cool-climate characteristics mixed with rich and delicious mid-palate and an elegant finish.

The 2011 X Block Bien Nacido was also floral and elegant and tasting very much in balance at this moment.

It was a happy moment for me to taste these wines and get to talk with Bob Lindquist to extoll the virtues of cool climate Syrah. At one point Steve Law came over from MacLaren and the three of us geeked out on French Syrah and how food-friendly it is.


Two generations of cool-climate Syrah lovers meet for the first time: Steve Law and Bob Lindquist

Lagier Meredith Vineyard

I love to check in with Stephen and Carole’s deliciously graceful Napa Syrah. This is a full wine but it’s light on it’s feet at the same time. The 2011 had a classic cool-climate Syrah black olive disposition with a full mid-palate. Again, this is a Syrah that shows that judicious use of oak and smart picking decisions can create an elegant Syrah in an area known for bigger wines.

Skylark Wine Company

I finished the day checking in with a relatively newer winery because I noticed that they had a Rodger’s Creek Syrah which is a cool-climate site near the Petaluma Gap and Carneros. The 2009 Rodgers Creek was a beautiful Syrah, peppery and bright with beautiful elegance. Another winery to get to know more and a style that I hope they stick with.
All in all, I’d say that there are more wineries attempting to make Syrah in a more floral, peppery, savory style; less blocky and big and overly brawny. Few wineries have gone all in on that style and some of my favorite Syrahs from the cooler vintages of 2010 and 2011 have climbed up in ripeness and alcohol level for 2012 and 2013 when the vintages were warmer so it’s hard to say if there’s really a stylistic shift or not. I’m heartened by many of my talks with winemakers who agree with me that Syrah doesn’t need to be jammy and oaky but then they admit that in order to please the general consumer they generally offer Syrahs that are bigger and riper to round out their portfolios. And maybe this is indeed the future of Syrah, that we just have to get comfortable with the fact that it comes in different styles and that consumers appreciate both styles.

As long as the cooler-climate styles stick around then I’m comfortable with that.




Three Vintages of Fields Family Winery Lodi Syrah

As a cool-climate Syrah enthusiast, I don’t often get many Syrahs sent to me from Lodi.  It’s not an area that many would say is known for cool weather but I did have an idea, based on some tastings at Bedrock Winery, that it’s possible to make restrained and elegant wines (in this case Zinfandel) from Lodi, especially from the Mokelumne river area.  So, when Ryan Sherman approached me offering to send samples, I accepted with only a bit of reservation.  I’m glad I did because these wines, if not exactly cool-climate styles of Syrah, are honest examples of the variety.
Fields Family wines

Fields 2010 Syrah 14.4% ABV $22:

On first opening this was quite an austere wine for Lodi, full of black pepper, savory aromas and a very present earthiness, which as you can imagine, got me pretty excited.  The wine did open up over the next hour and a half and started to exhibit some more warm climate characteristics, bitter dark chocolate, strawberry and cherry (but not jammy). Very little oak, great grip on the finish.  Very impressive wine, it has an energy on the mid-plate that I don’t often (ever) get in Lodi Syrah.

Fields 2011 14.2% ABV $22 :

On first opening the 2011 seemed more open and warm-climate character to me.  Still a tad high-toned but more of a slightly jammy style.  The jamminess disappeared rather quickly as the wine opened and it ended up smelling a lot like the previous vintage with that common theme of energy on the mid-palate.  Again there’s a fair amount of black pepper on the nose and that carries over  to the mid-palate mixed with some strawberry and blackberry aromas.  An elegant Syrah because of its lack of new oak.  The finish is nice and drying and makes you hunger for some savory food to accompany it.

Fields Family 2012 ABV 14.5% (not yet released):

The ’12 is an altogether more open Syrah, I wouldn’t call it a fruit bomb but it does have more of a fruit forward nose and palate right now.  This Syrah isn’t even scheduled for release until September of 2014 so it’s a little unfair to judge it at the moment, some more savory elements might develop over time.  Right now, the fruit on the nose isn’t jammy but more like slightly stewed fruit, maybe verging a tad into fruit compote.  It’s a little hot right now but again the alcohol might integrate more as the wine develops in the bottle.  Fields Winery was generous enough to send me a second bottle and I look forward to trying it again in a year or so to see how it’s progressed.  There’s good verve on the mid palate like the other vintages so that’s promising.  It’s a warmer style of Syrah but I like it because it’s honest and has very little oak to mask the fruit.

All of these wines were sampled over a period of three days with and without food.  I’m excited about this winery and the state of the future of Lodi.  The wines all had a similar thread of pure fruit unadulterated by oak and relatively modest alcohol levels.  They are all made from an organically farmed vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA which is the coolest of the Lodi sub-AVAs.

Fields is a small winery with only about 1500 cases production in total. Ryan Sherman and Russ Fields are the brains behind Fields Family.  Ryan makes the wine from the eight acres of vineyards that Russ bought back in 2005.  Ryan had been making wine at home and took on the larger project while also taking classes at UC Davis.  The wine is made with native yeast fermentation, very little new oak, no filtering or fining.  All music to my ears.

There’s more Syrah on the horizon too, according to Ryan, with some projects made from Lodi and small lots in the Sierra Foothills.  All of these projects get me salivating about the future of Syrah in what has mostly been a forgotten region for the grape.  It’s further proof that anything is possible when grapes are in the hands of the right winemaker.

These wines were provided by the producer as samples for review.