The annual conference of Wine Bloggers is being held in Lodi this year, and one of their excursions will be to Livermore Valley. The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association is treating about thirty of these bloggers to a tour of our valley’s finer vineyards and to a dinner hosted by Karl and Carolyn Wente at their restaurant. A few of us have been invited to talk about one of our wines, and in this case, we have been asked to present our 2013 Founder’s Collection Syrah. Here is the introduction that I prepared for this wine.

I am John Kinney, Founder and Director of Winemaking for Occasio Winery. Occasio, perhaps the smallest commercial winery in Livermore with production of about 1000 cases, is named after the Roman Goddess of Opportunity. We specialize in wines from Livermore’s heritage cultivars, those varieties having more than 100 years of excellence in this valley. In crafting our wines, we emphasize the terroir, culture, and winemaking traditions of Livermore Valley.

Today, I have been invited to showcase our 2013 Occasio Winery Founder’s Collection Syrah. It is our second vintage with this wine, and we continue to explore its potential from the Ghielmetti Vineyard. We make very little of it – approximately 50 cases – and do so, as with all of our wines from Angelica to Vermouth, because of an historical excellence that is impossible to ignore.

In an oral interview in 1979, André Tchelistcheff, the father of modern California winemaking, spoke of the excellent wines of Livermore’s past. As for Syrah, he said, ‘if I will have to grow the Syrah and produce really fine quality Rhone-type wines, without any minute’s hesitation I will go to Livermore, because Livermore can produce the most outstanding Rhone wine in the style of Hermitage.’ So, how could I resist in not exploring what André meant by these words?

By comparison with Hermitage, our 2013 is an infant, too young to show its full potential. Jim Gordon, of the Wine Enthusiast, suggested holding the wine until 2018 – 2023, and his descriptions of the wine, ‘dry, very firm in texture, and concentrated in flavor,’ are apt descriptors of a young Hermitage.

So where are we with Syrah? We have, at Ghielmetti, a terroir somewhat like the Rhone, but that is where similarity ends. You see, we are Livermore Valley, so if there are notes in our wine that hint of Hermitage, that is all they are – just hints. It is incumbent upon us to go beyond hints, and search for an identifiable Livermore characteristic that can provide a unique and notable counterpoint to Hermitage that justifies seeking Livermore Syrah out in its own right. This search will require considerable research, which has been our mission since we’ve founded Occasio eight years ago.

Our journey has just started. We must re-examine our farming practices and the way we craft our wine. But most of all, we must continue our search for a ‘Livermore’ style, because there is no art to be found in imitation – only poor copies.

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