It started when I was asked to do a ABC wine class for tasting room/restaurant servers in Paso Robles by Amanda Wittstrom Higgins at Ancient Peaks winery. I said sure. Can we do more? In 2 weeks time we were able to assemble our “dream team” of TOP professionals who could foster interesting insight, wisdom & experiences dialogue that would hopefully create more questions & dialogue. And, if we included some from “outside” the region this would help nurture cammaderie & create collaboration.
The first panel–“New World Syrah” was held on January 9, 2018.
The premise for me is I believe Syrah is one of the world’s top 3 red grape varieties AND so grossly under appreciated. I believe as a wine community, we need to help raise awareness.
I remember the first time I had the Cote Rotie from Gentaz Dervieux & thinking how the hell can God & man grow & produce a wine like this…..something way beyond a grape variety & winemaking. This beckons the question, how can we in the New World move forward with that thought. NOT to be French, but to move the taster similarly to what I had experienced.
Amanda & I were hoping through collaboration & sharing of ideas, insight & experiences with vine material, growing & producing, this can help those of the New World to move forward with this varietal. We then thought, who would be our dream team to inspire people. While I originally thought one panel would be enough, we decided to change & do a few panels, so we could better foster more discussions….from different perspectives.
DAY ONE, Panel One–“New World Syrah”
We settled on featuring 4 panelists for this one.
–Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars (Washington state), who I think is one of the VERY best from that area right now. In addition, FYI, Greg was the former wine director for the Wolfgang Puck restaurants AND Emeril Lagasse restaurants. He was also President of the Court of Master Sommeliers—America Chapter for 5 years. His wines deftly display his knowledge, vast experience & passion.
–Bruce Neyers of Neyers Vineyards is one of the wine yodas. I have known Bruce for 40 or so years. I first met Bruce back in the 1970’s when he ran Joseph Phelps—a time when they were one of the first to champion Syrah (& Riesling) in California AND created Insignia, a Cabernet blend, with the 1974 vintage. In addition, in1992 he took over as National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants (the premium game changing importer of true artisan standout French wines, such as Chave in Hermitage, Gentaz Dervieux & Robert Jasmin, Rene Rostaing in Cote Rotie & Clape, Verset & Allemand in Cornas amongst others). Because he goes to France 3 to 4 times a year to visit them he clearly understands what they do & how, as he is REALLY good friends with each. Bruce therefore because of 40+ years in California wine industry & 25 years dealing with the top producers of France is the ideal man to translate the New World & the Old World in these kinds of wines.
–Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards. We asked Andy to come & give us insight into “cool” climate grown Syrah. The Peay estate vineyard is located in the far northwestern corner of the Sonoma Coast, four miles from the ocean & reputed to be one of the coolest sites in the world for the Syrah grape variety. It’s hard to imagine such an extreme, inhospitable site like theirs could ripen quality grapes every vintage.
–Serge Carlei from Carlei Wines out of Victoria, Australia. Although Serge is renown for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, he also produces some very interesting Syrah in a much more civil style. In addition, Serge has some very interesting views, insights & experiences on the whole organic/biodynamic grape growing subject.
Fortunately, all three of the panelists from the previous session also grow & produce superb Cabernet Sauvignon based wines too. So, with this session we switch grape varieties, but continue the dialogue, sharing & insights to address this grape variety from different perspectives & 3 different parts of the New World.
–Serge Carlei Carlei Wines (Victoria, Australia)
–Bruce Neyers Neyers Winery (Napa Valley, California)
–Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars (Walla Walla, Washington)
I loved how Bruce Neyers shared memories of the 70’s & 80’s in Napa Valley (& his work at Joseph Phelps); his work since 1992 with the producers from the Kermit Lynch portfolio & how he & his team continually evolve & transition because of his experiences. And, Serge Carlei, for his “under the radar” region & very practical AND very personal organic/biodynamic regime in the vineyards & why. And Greg Harrington for his wonderful insight into what’s happening in Washington state, wine production wise AND his incredible understanding & insights in a very practical, worldly manner. Wow! What a day!