The Battle For Syrah – Part 1

I half-jokingly had the phrase “the Battle for Syrah” printed on the back of my business cards last year and I’ve been explaining it ever since.

Wherever I travel in the county representing Stolpman Vineyards I hear similar reactions to our Syrah. Sommeliers and other professional wine buyers profess their love for Syrah, but frustrated, admit they don’t sell a lot of it.  Several veteran retailers have even gone so far as to riddle me “what’s the difference between Syphilis and Syrah?” of course, I already know the punch line “you can get rid of Syphilis!” while the most beautiful, highly-allocated Syrahs often sit on the shelf forever.

Syrah resides on the fringe of mainstream wine consumption for three main reasons.  These are the three strikes that Syrah must battle!

  1. Northern Rhone:  The home of Syrah was only discovered by the international wine community in the 1970s while the world had long before fallen in love with Bordeaux and Burgundy.
  1. Australia, the Land of Shiraz:  Driven by huge wineries, Australia adopted Syrah as its red grape of choice and by 2006, was producing 25 million cases of “Shiraz” annually.  The “strinized” spelling confuses customers as does the high-alcohol, fruit forward national style.
  1. Its Own Worst Enemy: Syrah is one of the most resilient of the major modern- day varietals and can grow almost anywhere. In the past twenty years, many farmers planted Syrah as a default grape because it was guaranteed to produce a crop – a lot of crappy Syrah resulted!

The hardiness of Syrah is exactly why the grape excels on Stolpman Vineyards.  Gale forces whip through the Ballard Canyon wind tunnel sending the vines wildly fluttering for the majority of daylight hours.  Syrah is so tough the leaf can continue photosynthesis even while being battered.  Through a long series of tests in the vineyard we found that even with the sun beating down, the leaves don’t suck for water while they are being blown by the wind.

We concluded that we didn’t need to water the Syrah vines, ever again.

Playing into the resilience of Syrah, we push the vines to the brink every season.  By withholding irrigation, we’re ensuring that our ecosystem is as harsh and arid as possible, and the vines are forced to root deep into our Limestone sub-soils.  Through our dry-farming methodology we’re making sure our Syrah vines are the toughest around, giving us the winning edge in Syrah’s up-hill battle.  The tiny grapes we harvest aren’t diluted and are packed with vibrant, high-toned flavors forged by the vines’ struggle to survive.

While our sophisticated, balanced Syrah style slowly wins over the palates of wine professionals all over the world (despite their grumblings), we’re taking steps to make sure our Syrah will eventually triumph even over the more established Bordelais and Burgundian varietals.

Over the past 20 years we’ve amassed a brilliant array of Syrah clones originally from the best vineyards in the Northern Rhone.  We’ve launched an intensive process of marking the vines that ripen the most beautiful fruit within Stolpman Vineyards.  We take cuttings from these marked, perfect vines and plant them together in a new block, creating a “Stolpman Syrah Super Clone”.  The plan is to mark these new offspring as well, to further hone in on perfection.

Not only will the Stolpman Super Clone further define our elegant, complex style of Syrah versus the fruit-forward Shiraz style so prevalent in the marketplace, but we will eventually begin selling the Stolpman Super Clone to our neighboring vineyards.  Through spreading the perfected Syrah material, we’re recruiting an army to fight with us in the battle for Syrah.