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I've always found it curious that many of the most popular wines from the New World were inspired by wines from cool, or relatively cool climate regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux. It seems to me that the California sunshine and balmy Australian summers call out for the sun-loving varieties of the Rhône Valley! This is exactly what inspired the original 'Rhône Rangers'* as they were monikered when they took to planting grapes like Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier. Even Jacques Perrin of the famous Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape saw the potential of the New World and set up shop in Paso Robles with Tablas Creek. Steve Edmunds, of Edmunds St. John, one of the original 'Rangers,' continues this tradition making one of our favorite New World Syrahs from the Barsotti Ranch. The vineyard here has the same granitic soils that are found in Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, and give this wine notes of black pepper and a dark minerality reminiscent of its Rhône counterparts.
It's the same idea that Angela Osborne had when she started the acclaimed winery Tribute to Grace in 2007, an homage to her grandmother and her great love of Grenache. In fact the entire project centers on single-vineyard bottlings of this variety. As the name would suggest, these wines are made with a gentle hand and no flashy oak; opting to use only neutral barrels instead. Her aim has always been to showcase the terroir of Santa Cruz vineyards using Grenache as her medium. We were lucky enough to snag six bottles of this highly sought-after production from some of the oldest vines she works with at the Besson Vineyard, planted in 1910.
We are pleased to highlight these stunning examples of Rhône Valley varieties embracing their naturally warm climates to create wines that both evoke the wines of the Old World and distinctly showcase their new homes. Michelle DeWyngaert
*If you want to learn more about the Rhône Rangers, check out their homepage at https://www.rhonerangers.org/*
Tribute to Grace is a result of winemaker Angela Osborne's love and dedication to Grenache, showcasing a style that pays homage to her grandmother, Grace. The Besson Vineyard bottling is from remarkable 110-year-old, own-rooted vines. Located on the Hecker Pass near Santa Cruz the vines are kept cool from the Pacific Ocean. The soil at Besson is a gravelly clay-loam positioned on a gentle north-east facing slope. The 2017 vintage saw some much needed rain early on to help these old vines bounce back from the drought of previous years. The grapes were foot-tread, vinified 83% whole cluster and then spent ten months in neutral barrels. As we were only lucky enough to snag six bottles of this highly sought-after Grenache, I have not had the pleasure of tasting it, but the distributors have described the Besson 2017 as "ethereal, beguiling", and "a decidedly floral, savory expression." Michelle DeWyngaert
Sourced from three plots of 40-year-old Grenache vines in Maclaren Vale and Clarendon, this wine speaks highly of the ironstone and clay soils of the Hills. There is a touch of CO2 added at bottling for preservation, but otherwise there is nothing added or taken away for this juice. The nose is perfectly ripe red cherry and currants, a woodsy tree-bark quality, owed largely to the whole-cluster fermentation, and you can truly smell the iron and clay from these three vineyard sites. The palate is bright and approachable with powdery tannins that evoke the silky clay through the finish. Medium bodied and juicy, this will be a great pairing for leaner pork dishes or a spicy, simmered curry! Michelle DeWyngaert
I can't say that I've had much Syrah from Willamette, and indeed the Havlin Vineyard is relatively young (planted in 2009), but I'm already intrigued to find more. The vineyard is 100% dry-farmed and LIVE sustainable certified. The soil here is silt loam over ironstone bedrock, which not only helps keep the yields low on these younger vines, but also imparts a distinct mineral backbone to this wine. 20% whole cluster in the fermentation, aged for 18 months in neutral French oak, and then bottled with just a bit of SO2 in accordance with Mike Hinds' minimalist philosophy. The nose is rich with a touch of dark, bitter chocolate, and the palate presents a really beautiful, concentrated texture with black pepper and dried herbs. Perfectly savory, this wine is calling to be paired with something roasted. Michelle DeWyngaert
The Estate bottling from Stolpman showcases a blend from each of the vineyard blocks. It's a real blessing to have complete control over their fruit each year and continue their commitment to dry-farming even in drought-ridden California. Their aim is to create a rich, concentrated wine without becoming jammy or viscous. The grapes are vinified 50% whole cluster in open-top fermenters and then aged in neutral barrels. The nose is unmistakably California Syrah with classic notes of cracked black pepper, fresh violets and rosemary, laid over stewed plums and ripe black cherries. The palate is rich with silky tannins giving it a gentle but firm backbone and a peppery finish. Michelle DeWyngaert
Ben Haines is on a mission to showcase "magic dirt" from around Yarra Valley, Australia, particularly focusing on vineyards with Rhône varieties. This Marsanne is from the Warramumba vineyard made up of clay, sandstone, and mudstone. The soil really comes through on the nose with this wine, and certainly on the palate with its mineral texture. The wine goes through a long fermentation and is then aged in 10% new oak, the rest in neutral barrels, with 14 months on the lees. It only goes through 10% malolactic conversion which allows this Marsanne to maintain a good amount of acidity to balance the rich, mouth-coating texture. This is a great pairing for roast poultry or creamy pasta dishes, and it does well with some time in a decanter to let it open up. Michelle DeWyngaert
Eduardo Soler is a mountaineer-winemaker who started the Ver Sacrum project in Argentina in 2012, focusing on Rhône varieties. He has planted (or sources from) vineyards of Grenache, Monastrell (Mourvèdre), Carignan, Roussane, Marsanne, and Syrah, along with a few Spanish and Italian varieties. This is a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne from the Uco Valley. 80% of the wine is fermented and aged in cement, and the rest is aged in 600L barrels. Eduardo allows flor to develop in the barrels, which helps eat the glycerin, he says. This has a double effect, giving a very subtle oxidative note to the wine, and also ensuring that it is fresh and very dry, as glycerin typically adds weight and richness to wine. There are notes of orchard and stone fruit on the nose, and a very fresh and mineral finish. A fascinating wine and a unique expression of these Northern Rhône varieties. -EL
This beautiful California Viognier is more reminiscent of its Rhône iteration than many other examples I've had from the sunshine state. Blended from two vineyards, Cedarville on decomposed granite, and the famed Sumu Kaw vineyard on volcanic soils. They don't usually make a varietal Viognier at La Clarine Farms, but the 2018 vintage was so good it spoke for itself. Everything you want from this grape on the nose: a field of fresh white and yellow flowers, soft herbs, and a perfectly balanced acidity on the palate with a waxy, but not oily texture. Michelle DeWyngaert