Andrew Murray has a whole lot of experience with Central Coast Syrah. He planted his family’s Foxen Canyon ranch back in the early 90’s after getting inspired in the Northern Rhone. His adventure actually started with his first taste of Condrieu, in a restaurant near Burgundy. He and his dad jumped in the car and drove straight South to investigate where this magical white nectar came from. Of course, because Condrieu is just a short stroll downriver from Cote Rotie, the Viognier grape wouldn’t be Andrew’s only wine epiphany of the trip. Andrew now dove into the world of great Syrah, and never looked back! Sometime during this European adventure, he and his dad befriended writer Robert Mayberry, and accompanied him to the best Syrah wineries in France. Storied wines were pulled out of dusty racks in the coldest, deepest recesses of wineries, legendary vintages, and only the best, most limited cuvees; perfectly aged right where they were made. No wonder why Andrew rushed home to start planting.
After getting his Viticulture and Enology degree from UC Davis, and farming his vineyard for a decade, in 2005, the family decided to sell the ranch. Andrew swiftly shifted his attention to sourcing the best Syrah available from other farmers. Despite growing up within 5 miles of one another in the South Bay of Los Angeles County, and me selling Andrew Murray Wines when I worked at The Henry Wine Group, we had never met. It wasn’t until the 2009 vintage when a mutual friend introduced us, and Andrew started buying a couple tons of Syrah from Stolpman to create a vineyard designated wine every year.
Four vintages later, I sat down with Andrew to get his perspective on Stolpman Syrah versus all his other vineyards. Not only does Andrew buy fruit from West Paso, through the Los Alamos Corridor, all the way down Ballard Canyon to Happy Canyon, but he also sources fruit at varying price points, destined for his high-end vineyard designates or his value-priced Tous les Jours Syrah.
When I caught up with Andrew on Halloween, a lot of his higher yielding “value” Syrah was still hanging while Stolpman, and his other vineyard designates were already fermenting away. The major difference between the two groups: acid. Andrew feels that the ideal pH for his Syrahs is 3.65. This year, Stolpman came in at 3.68, and Andrew shrugs, “I guess I could have picked a day or two earlier.”
The high yielding value stuff has a pH of 3.8-3.9 and will be picked the first week of November. This made sense to me because with a more value priced wine, Andrew includes the round, pleasing, mellow, and ripe profile that doesn’t necessarily need the balancing acid to ensure long term aging ability. But Andrew also blends in earlier picked, colder climate Los Alamos fruit to give the Tous les Jours wine more complexity and the all-important acid. So don’t write it off for improving over ten years!
Of course, acid is why dad, Tom Stolpman, was so obsessed with limestone, as the high pH soil produces fruit of extremely low pH. Today, Stolpman Vineyards is known for its opulent, yet balanced style thanks to our 250 foot deep layer of Limestone rock.
The timing of our conversation happened to be perfect, as Andrew just released his 2010 Stolpman Syrah. He tells me 2010 is lighter on its feet but is still “classically Syrah”. Picking between colder and warmer climates, and blending the two for Tous les Jours, Andrew has a front row seat to what he calls “the Syrah identity crises”: Lean, elegant food wines from cold climates that need years to unfurl versus jammy, opulent, approachable, Shiraz styled wines of the hotter climates. Stolpman embodies the middle ground, the focal point of what Andrew believes is the perfect profile of Syrah, the best of both worlds combined into one. Stolpman gives him this naturally, while he tries to create the classical style by blending varying vineyard climates in his entry level wine.
While this all sounded great, I asked Andrew to take this thought a step further and actually describe the flavor profile of his “classic syrah” from Stolpman: “nervy, electric acidity, tart cranberry, ripe red cherry RED FRUIT with violet notes, and secondary characteristics of olive and pepper but not dominant.”
I then asked Andrew which of the other vineyards is most similar to Stolpman. After thinking about it, he told me Thompson Vineyard that lies in between Los Alamos and Foxen Canyon has the most similar profile but is still a different beast. The Thompson throws a little bit riper, jammier fruit profile without the complexities of sage and forest floor he often picks up from Stolpman. More importantly for Andrew, he likes both vineyards so much he can make the wines very “hands off” with minimal amounts of new French oak, no viognier co-fermentations, and only a little whole cluster inclusion. These are pure expressions of the grape.
Thompson is a nice vineyard to be compared to as, like Stolpman, it is a proven vineyard source having sold fruit to many of the same folks as we have, including Sine Qua Non and Jaffurs.
On the Santa Ynez Valley map hanging in the tasting room, Stolpman is smack dab in the middle of the American Viticultural Area. Tom Stolpman and Jeff Newton had an inkling that this would be the sweet spot for wine grapes and it’s great to hear from a third party that it has truly turned out to be the ideal location! The right place for acid, for flavor profile, and for balance!