We have produced a few vintages of Syrah. The most recent vintage is from 2017, which we will release early next year. However, we have yet to release a Grenache, other than as a rosé, and we have never produced a Mourvedre.
This is about to change with this harvest, as we have decided to shake up our portfolio a little bit. We have taken the opportunity provided by coronavirus to venture outside our comfort zone and explore some new vineyards and varietals. This year, we are bringing the highly acclaimed Shake Ridge Ranch to our family, with harvests of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.
Shake Ridge Ranch is a 46-acre vineyard owned and planted by Ann Kraemer (think Domaine Chandon, Cain, Hobbs, and Shafer) a few miles east of Sutter Creek in Amador County. We are especially fortunate to have access this year and even more fortunate that the Amador vineyards largely escaped the smoke from the fires that have ravaged our areas.
The new varietals deserve an introduction, so the following is a brief description of each cultivar.
The birthplace of Grenache has been debated for centuries. Some claim Sardinia while others claim northern Spain. Though modern DNA analysis would favor Spain, there is no question that this is a varietal worth claiming.
Late in ripening, Grenache favors warmer climates. It is a popular variety in the Rhone and is the principal cultivar in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Elsewhere in southern France, Grenache is frequently used in rosé-styled wines, like the herby, dry rosés of Tavel.
For several years now, we have been using locally grown Grenache for our rosé with great success. Last year, 2019, we harvested additional fruit for a red style of this wine. Now, at the one-year point, the wine is beginning to change from its candy fruit into a more balanced and complex wine. We will probably bottle it early next year.
This year, we harvested Grenache from Shake Ridge Ranch in Amador county. This high elevation vineyard benefits from the hot dry climates of the region while also enjoying cold nights. The fruit from this vineyard produces softly textured and fragrant wines – lush red fruits with licorice and black pepper flavors. We are excited to be able to add this to our portfolio.
As you can see from the picture, Mourvedre (sometimes referred to as Mataro) is a dark-skinned variety. It is most prized for its forceful contribution to blends like GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre).
Not surprisingly, Mourvedre often expresses dark fruit aromas – think blackberry. That, coupled with high tannins, explains Mourvedre’s popular appeal as a blending grape, especially with lighter bodied Grenache. Single varietal bottlings of this wine are rare (think Domaine Tempier), and when you do find them expect meaty notes accented by dark fruits and floral tones of violet.
This is our first experience with Mourvedre. We need to take some care with fermentation, since, like Syrah, Mourvedre is a reductive grape. This means that oxygen mismanagement during fermentation can lead to funkiness. But we have experience with oxygen management, so this should not pose a problem.
As for our intentions, we will clearly use Mourvedre as a blending element for our Syrah and Grenache and most likely will produce a GSM blend with it. And, depending on its development, we might even produce a limited bottling as a single varietal. Let’s hope so!