A Note from Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards, one of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 Sponsors representing the Ballard Canyon AVA.
The Syrah Context
From its ancestral Motherland, the Northern Rhone, connoisseurs love Syrah for its layers of flavor often described with words including: smoked meat, iron, olive, and black pepper.
Over the past twenty years, vintners and large wineries increased production of Syrah worldwide, often in warmer climates. In the US alone, Syrah plantings went from less than 1,000 acres in 1990 to over 100,000 acres in 2011. The resulting Syrahs, often jammy and over-ripe, lacked the complexity and nuance that made Syrah a noble grape.
These wines were eventually rejected by the international marketplace. Sales in the US for both domestic Syrah and Australian Shiraz dropped about a third from 2008 to 2012.
Now Syrah has returned to its original niche. Large wineries grafted Syrah vines or winemakers now blend the grape into opulent-styled red blends. Because the market proved that Syrah is not the right varietal to make mass produced fruit-forward red wines, boutique vintners still dedicated to Syrah are free to produce wines abounding with interesting secondary characteristics. These wines are made for discerning wine lovers who seek out interesting wines rather than a beverage. The time seems right for a small American Viticultural Area to focus on balanced, complex Syrah. As the newest California AVA, Ballard Canyon is doing just that.
Ballard Canyon AVA: Syrah Territory
Ballard Canyon AVA, published on October 30th, 2013, lies in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. Vintners started planting here in 1974, and over the next decades, these pioneers experimented with dozen of varietals. By the mid 1990’s, Syrah emerged as the best fit for the AVA.
The cold, maritime influenced nights allow the vines to retain acidity while the short periods of high peak heat allow for ripe-ness and concentration. This 40 degree average diurnal swing, plus morning fog and gusty afternoon winds; culminate in bright, intense wines with exciting balance.
Today, nine boutique wineries make up the Ballard Canyon Winegrowers’ Alliance. BCWGA aims to create an identity in the Old World sense, with Syrah as the appellation’s specific varietal focus.
Stylistic variations present themselves based on different soil-types, elevations, harvest-dates, and winemaking methods. Regardless of the specific vineyard within Ballard Canyon, all of the Syrahs show a high-toned fresh fruit profile compared to the warmer climates of Paso Robles or Napa Valley. On the flipside, Ballard Canyon Syrahs possess more weight and lushness than wines from the Northern Rhone. In this sense, Ballard Canyon lies balanced in the center of the world-wide Syrah continuum.
Eight of the nine BCWGA wineries will pour one estate-grown Syrah to present the common character of Ballard Canyon while demonstrating the subtle differences between vineyards and approaches.
Critically acclaimed La Purisma Mountain Vineyard sweeps up a hillside to 1250 feet of elevation.
A small vineyard and winery perched atop the headland of Ballard Canyon.
High-density, immaculately farmed vines on rolling hills of sandy soil produce cult wines sought after around the world.
A young vineyard now sought after by grape-purchasing wineries, a small portion is also bottled.
Famous for vineyard-designated wines, Michael Larner makes small lots of Syrah, releasing them with extended bottle age.
On the site of the former Ballard Canyon Winery, Rusack is the only grower-producer with an on-site tasting room and winery on Ballard Canyon Road.
Saarloos and Sons:
Available only through the tasting room and mailing list, Saarloos and Sons Windmill Ranch sits on Iconic terraces overlooking Ballard Creek.
The Original Syrah plantings of Ballard Canyon, Cote-Rotie and Cornas styled own-rooted plantings abound.
At the 2014 WBC, the new Ballard Canyon Syrah bottle will be unveiled to attendees. Beginning this year, BCWGA members package their estate grown Syrahs in a custom bottle with the words “BALLARD CANYON” rotating around the shoulder, raised above the glass surface. The producers hope that one day, this bottle will become synonymous with great Syrah throughout the world of boutique wine. Only Syrahs that are estate grown in the AVA are eligible for the new bottle.