Often when you think of Napa and Sonoma, the big corporate winery showcases come to mind. Palatial wineries costing tens of millions of dollars surrounded by gardens that compete with Versailles and gourmet kitchens better equipped than three star Michelin restaurants. Yet some of California’s most exciting wines are not being made in such wine palaces.
Working in leased space, crammed in with other small producers sharing space and equipment, some young winemakers are making a dramatic new generation of California wines. Some of the most compelling wines I tasted during a visit to Sonoma last weekend were some bottlings of syrah produced by some low tech, but high passion winemakers. I say this is a new generation because these are not the huge raspberry fruit bomb syrahs with little varietal character you have come to expect from California. These are big wines, just as they should be, but layered in with all that fruit was real complexity as they exhibited that earthy, butcher shop character that defines the finest wines from this variety.
Morgon Peterson at Bedrock Wine Company is crafting some of the most fascinating American wines I’ve tasted in some time. He’s making a tremendous range of single vineyard syrahs and a dramatic sauvignon blanc/semillon blend. Neighbor Phillip Staehle is making some compelling wines under the Enkidu label. His Odyssey Russian River Syrah is proof positive that the best syrah is made in cooler climates than conventional wisdom has called for in the past.
In the picture above, Peterson presses wines using a muscle powered basket press. Yes, he really makes wine that way. There’s a growing group of young winemakers in California who are well educated not only on winemaking science, but on the traditions that made European wines the standard for greatness in the past. They are on the cutting edge of California winemaking not because of their use of the latest technologies, but by their return to the methods of the past. They are making textured, complex wines that don’t bury the characteristics of the variety under excess and manipulations, but that proudly and clearly show their California personality. For me, these wines were nothing short of exciting. As you might expect, very little wine is produced at wineries such as these. I’d suggest you get on the mailing list now.