Local lore says that Syrah arrived in Sonoma in the 1880’s via John Drummond and some budwood he brought from France. But it didn’t really catch on until a century later. At the time, Zinfandel was king.
Just a few decades ago, Sonoma County had a higher percentage of acres planted to Syrah, the noble red grape from France’s Rhône Valley, than Pinot Noir. No longer. After the movie Sideways, consumers went nuts for Pinot Noir, and farmers can sell a ton of Pinot Noir for a lot more than Syrah, so Syrah moved into the shadow of Pinot Noir. Regardless, it is a grape that thrives in Sonoma’s many microclimates.
We started Spicerack in 2003 when I was working with Australian winemaker buddies on the iconic Penfolds business. My Aussie mates shared with me some of the magic of Syrah; how it thrives in both warm and cold climates, how to care for it in the winery, and more. We named it for its unmistakable aromas; every time we opened a bottle we felt like we were opening the spicerack in our kitchen. Clove, anise, pepper, bay leaves, oregano, and more.
Unlike Pinot Noir, Syrah needs to be handled a bit more forcefully in the winery. Tougher skins require maceration and it needs oxygen to really show its stuff. So we are a bit rough with it, in a good way.
In a way, Syrah is a bit of the Rodney Dangerfield of grapes; “don’t get no respect”. But don’t underestimate its charms. Probably some of the best bargains in the world today are Syrah-based.
My 2020 Spicerack Syrah comes from mature, low-yielding dry-farmed hillside sites in the Alexander Valley AVA. They have warm, sunny days and evenings that are surprisingly cold. Spicerack in the glass is as dark as night, savory, complex, with layers of nuanced aromas and a “spicerack” of flavors. It is generous, with velvety tannins but is not over ripe or sweet, nor is it overloaded with new French oak. It has a precise, balanced personality with layered, velvety and nervy tannins in the background that keep things well in order. Don’t miss it. Only 284 cases produced.