We select the grapes for Estate Syrah from all of our varying Syrah plantings. Clones include Estrella River, Durrell, Alban, Tablas, P-Berry, 3, 7, 174. 383, 470, and 877. Vine densities range from 800, 1600, 2400, to 6,000 vines per acre. All in all, Estate Syrah is the most representative wine of Stolpman Vineyards each vintage.
A Special Vertical for Ballard Canyon Syrah
On October 1, 2013, the US Tax and Trade Bureau officially published Ballard Canyon as its own American Viticultural Area. For the first time, we were allowed to list Ballard Canyon as the origin of our grapes. Labeling regulations apply to any wine not yet bottled, so the change retroactively extended to the 2012 vintage.
Beginning with the 2012 vintage, we took the opportunity to refresh our package from the former Santa Ynez Valley label. More importantly, upon publication, Ballard Canyon became the only AVA in the country dedicated to the varietal Syrah. Every grower-producer within the area agreed that we should bottle our Syrah cuvees in a custom bottle, with the words Ballard Canyon circling the shoulder. This 2012-2017 vertical thereto encompasses the first six vintages of official Ballard Canyon Syrah.
Winemaking: the New Era
In early 2012 we invested heavily in large Concrete fermenting tanks. Thick and heavy, the concrete serves to naturally insulate our cold, night-harvested Syrah through fermentation. As yeast begin to natively ferment sugar to alcohol, heat is produced, and the concrete slows the temperature spikes to a long, even rise. Not only do the Concrete fermenters stop the yeast from “burning out” we believe they allow for further extraction of nuanced flavor. We don’t have to intervene with refrigeration and we allow the fermentation to happen as naturally as possible.
Speaking of natural, 2012 also marked the transition to sulfur-free primary-fermentations. Keeping with the idea of “hands off” minimal-manipulation winemaking, we think that exposing the fermentation to the elements, without the protective blanket of sulfur-dioxide, allows for more character development.
In 2012 we switched to a much gentler method of circulating our fermentations. We began Stolpman Vineyards winemaking over a decade earlier with emphasis on maximizing extraction of skin tannin, color, and power. The original methodology entailed long cold-soaks in which crushed juice sat with the skins and seeds prior to allowing fermentation to begin – getting a head start on inky, teeth-staining wines. We would do three intense punch-downs of the cap daily, forcefully ramming the solids down into the liquid below. After slowly evolving to a more delicate style, by 2012, we decided to keep punch-downs to at most 3 total over the entire 2+ weeks of fermentation. We now rely on much less invasive pump overs, in which juice is merely circulated from the bottom of the tank and splashed over the cap.
In pursuit of finely-balanced, layered wines, as of 2012 we decided to only include free-run wine in Estate Syrah. Press wine that is extracted by squeezing liquid out of the solids is either declassified to La Cuadrilla, sold off, or fed to the pigs.
The free run wine ages in neutral oak, racked off of the lees once in the spring. No new oak influences any of these wines.
Harvesting + Stem Inclusion
Our new era of Estate Syrah also entailed harnessing the abilities of La Cuadrilla to micro-pick. Long-ago we figured out that our ridgeline Syrah ripens about 1.5 brix faster than our hillside vines. In 2012, we asked La Cuadrilla to pick one ton from each block, only from the hilltops. Each of these one ton “starter picks” gets sorted and de-stemmed. We then take a much more accurate reading of the sugar level than we do from taking smaller samples. From the sugar level, we can choose the ideal harvest date for the rest of the block.
When the second, large pick arrives at the winery, we sort each cluster: clusters with yellowing stems are kept whole, those clusters still showing some green are de-stemmed. The result is a uniform 50% whole-cluster fermentation each of these six vintages. The lignified stems provide a savory woodiness without astringent, bitter “stemminess”. We circulate the juice from the first hilltop starter pick, spreading already-fermenting yeast all over the now-filled tank.
Weather and Age: The only variables left
Because farming and winemaking has been held constant these six vintages, the only difference between these wines is the weather, and of course, the span of six years to mature. All but the 2017 vintages were drought years. 2013 and 2015 experienced high-winds in the spring, reducing yield.
Here is a quick look at each wine’s profile:
2017: Jumps out with intensity and bravado, fresh red fruit sings.
2016: After an extra year in bottle, this wine shows richness, yet still with a pop of young energy.
2015: Bright and firm, perhaps the highest toned of the six.
2014: A darker profile, the continuum plunges from red to blue to purple. Heady and stunning.
2013: Pretty and elegant, in a very happy place
2012: A hint of dusty, dried fruit upon opening. After five minutes, fresh fruit takes over and the wine comes alive. The only wine that showed a bit of age, but it has a long life left to live!