Rhône wasn't built in a Day
by Norm Roby
Syrah may be a cute curiosity in several New World regions, but in California it has arrived bigtime. A number of artisan wineries—Jaffurs, Palmeri, Saxum, Copain, L'Aventure, JC Cellars, Adelaida, Domaine Alfred, Montemaggiore and Terre Rouge— are flirting with cult wine status. Each produces Syrah in garagiste quantity, and new vintages quickly sell out, either on a futures basis or to a mailing list clientele. At least another two dozen wineries have positioned themselves as Syrah specialists while others are making it their flagship wine.
To draw any conclusions as to Syrah’s likely progress, we have to look at what jump-started it. The nursery programme at Tablas Creek (the Beaucastel connection) first encouraged the importation of Syrah clones and focused attention on rootstock selection. Then winemakers learned how to deal with Syrah’s tendency to grow like the proverbial weed. Lise Ciolino says of her breathtaking Montemaggiore Dry Creek Valley Syrah, 'We use every trick in the book to keep its growth in check, ranging from intensive planting, to cane pruning to deficit irrigation.' Her steep hillside vineyards also restrict yields.