Santa Maria Valley
This was one of the most difficult wines I have ever made. And that challenge made the eventual success with this syrah even more gratifying. For us 1999 was a great year, marked by a very cool fall. That cool weather delayed the ripening of these grapes until November 18th! What came from the fermenters was a very dark wine that was beautifully fruity, but incredibly high in acidity with fierce, mean tannins. To deal with what we had, we took a very different winemaking approach, and it worked wonders. We culled out 3/4 of the barrels–these went into the 1999 California syrah–and the best ones were left on their lees (the dead yeast cells left over from the fermentation process) in barrel for 19 months. We never added any S02 or did any racking. Like sur-lees aging in chardonnay, the lees gave richness to the wine’s very lean character. And, by avoiding additions of S02, the small amounts of oxygen that seeped into the barrels during aging oxidized those mean tannins until they were smooth and supple. Structurally, this wine has a lot in common with a European wine; it possesses a fabulous aroma with excellent intensity of flavor, and yet it is lively on its feet–not ponderous at all. The tannins have smoothed, and the wine drinks well today but has obvious aging potential–a food wine if you will, but a very good one.