Syrah in the Vineyard
February 12, 2013
The first documented planting of Syrah in the state of California was in 1975 by winemaker Gary Eberle on the Estrella River Winery vineyards east of Paso Robles. It was the first time Syrah showed up in the California grape acreage report, and it was the origin of the first 100 percent Syrah made in the United States. Eberle planted these Chapoutier clones because he fell in love with the wine while working on his Doctorate at UC Davis.
Syrah grown in Paso Robles benefits from the highest diurnal swing of any vineyards in North America. Temperature changes of 50 degrees or more between day and night help the vines ripen during the day and go dormant at night, allowing the grapes to maintain a desired sugar/acid ratio. In Paso Robles, Syrah can thrive in both loamy and calcareous soils found on the east and west sides of the American Viticultural Area (AVA). According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Grape Acreage Report for 2011, San Luis Obispo County grows the most acreage of Syrah in the state. Syrah makes a medium sized cluster of about 2/3 of a pound and ripens by the end of October. The dark skins help create the beautiful dark purple hue and contribute to the well-balanced tannins in most Paso Robles Syrah. It’s why Syrah is called one of the noblest black grape varieties.
Typical Paso Robles Syrah tends to be a deep purple, with characteristics of blueberries, meat and earthiness. Some people ask what the difference is between Syrah and Shiraz, and really, there is none. It’s the same grape, just harvested and created under different conditions. These days, Shiraz usually refers to the Australian version of Syrah. A Syrah made in the French Bordeaux style might be less tannic and more structured. A Shiraz from Australia usually has bigger, bolder fruit. Either way, Syrah is a wine to be reckoned with and deserves a good piece of lamb or a sweet, fruity sauce to let it shine.
Age a well-made Paso Syrah for 10-20 years and toast a varietal that loves living on the Central Coast!