Upper Ojai, Ventura CountySYR

Our local source of grapes and, as a wine, is always one of the show stoppers! Roll Ranch is located beneath the dramatic face of Topa Topa Mountain in upper Ojai-a hanging valley 700 feet above Ojai valley proper. The soil at Roll Ranch is a decomposition of the mountain itself and is poor in nutrients, which makes it perfect for syrah grapes. Syrah is naturally vigorous, and the poor soils allow the vines to spend more of their energies on the fruit rather than on shoot and leaf production.

Because it is a rather warm site, we always start with very ripe grapes. The fermentation is done in three-ton open top tanks using native yeast, and the fermenting grapes are mixed by hand (punched down) three times a day. About one percent viognier grapes from Roll Ranch are added (a la Cote Rotie); this gives aromatic lift to the brooding warm climate fruit. The wine is pressed off into French oak barrels (one third of which are new) and basically the wine is not touched until August, at which time we rack (decant) the wine off its yeast lees and put it back into the barrel for another eight months. The wine is bottled without fining or filtration. The studied lack of intervention in the winemaking process helps preserve the wine’s character.

From the start, this syrah has had a very beguiling character that made me worry. All through the barrel aging, I thought it was ready to bottle–it was simply too delicious! Now that it has been safely in bottle for six months, I realize that, behind the gobs of fruit that you are presented with when you taste this youngster, there are soft textured tannins that lurk in the background-which means that as easy as it seems to drink today, fear not, it will hold on and continue to develop for quite a few years.