Where’s the Juice?

The 2013 Vintage: Where is the juice?

The Syrah grapes arriving into the winery look perfect: Small, taught, purple grapes on yellowish brown stems.
Assistant winemaker John Faulkner flagged me into our cold room as I arrived at the winery last week. “You have to try the Syrah picked last night!”

I followed John as he sidestepped in between pallets of stacked yellow bins. “Try Block B6, oh and you have to try Block 1!”
Pulling off a single grape and popping it into my mouth, the flavors were intensely sweet. But there seemed to be nothing to swallow before spitting the skin and seed onto the floor! The inside of the grape resembled gelatin rather than juice. When I bit through the grape, nothing dripped out, and the sliced edge of my bite held its shape, structured by pulp.

2013 vintage is defined by dry winter

Winemakers around the world assume 60 cases of wine for every ton of fruit harvested. Because Stolpman dry farms, we always end up with far less from our undiluted grapes. Further decreasing per-ton production, Stolpman Syrahs are usually made from only free-run juice, rather than pressing the skins and seeds to extract more wine out of the saturated skins and seeds. We allow wine to drain out of our 4-ton concrete fermenters overnight, so the weight of the cap gently forces wine out. Depending on the year and the block, a ton of Stolpman Syrah grapes produce as little as 48 cases.
Because we only received 6.5 inches of rain all winter, 2013 might break the record for a new low. Total grape Pomace, the combined solids leftover after draining wine, can amount to 23% of the grape’s weight. We expect to see ratios far higher this year.

New Heights of Concentration

The good news: Never have I tasted such concentrated flavors from Syrah grapes. What’s even more incredible is that the flavor is intense while still being fresh, vibrant, and relatively low in sugar. Every block we have picked so far is under 25 brix.
When I worked in Australia in 2006, winemakers aimed to make the most intensely ripe Shiraz possible. Many winemakers accomplished this by letting the grapes hang until they began to dehydrate and turn into raisins. This way, there was less juice in the grape and a higher level of sugar and flavor. Those grapes possessed jammy, dried fruit characters that were intense alright, but bear no resemblance to the early picked 2013 Ballard Canyon Syrah.
Sashi and Ruben are extremely excited about the quality of fruit hanging on the vineyard right now. As of September 21th, we’ve picked 1/3 of our Syrah crop, and we might be finished with Syrah by October! Unlike later years where we wait for flavors to develop through the fall, Ruben and Sashi don’t think there is much room for further improvement.