Ballard County Syrah winemakers.

Ballard County Syrah winemakers.

BUELLTON, Ca. – Syrah – the blessed and equally cursed grape of California is getting specialized treatment in Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County. Ballard producers used the Wine Bloggers Conference to share their take on the wine and how they’re trying to do something special to elevate Syrah.

I’m live blogging this event! Syrah has been a problematic category for quite a while. The notion of Syah has been hard to define because of bad marketing. The winemakers had more than a bit of fun with the problems of selling Syrah wines. They discussed the terroir of Ballard Canyon and suggested a regional identity requires a quorum – you need a chorus – like the eight winemakers on Saturday’s panel.

To the wines and winemakers:

Mike Larner spoke about terroir and his wine.

Mike Larner spoke about terroir and his wine.

Mike Larner of Larner Wines credited the people at the table for getting the group together. “Santa Barbara has an interesting geological history,” Larner said. He talked about the movement of soil through the centuries from San Diego to Santa Barbara. “What is unique we all have some sort of sand on top and beneath it we all have some sort of limestone. In the end the sand on top creates a unique growing environment to stress the vines. That sand renders fruit with intensity and clarity in the wine.”

Kimsey 2012 Syrah – Vineyard manager Ruben Solozano talked about his new Syrah which won’t be released until this fall. The very small production is 95 percent Syrah with a splash of Viognier.The wine was very austere. It certainly was tight from a “very young vineyard.”  The flavor had good intensity but clearly needs time in the bottle.

Beckman La Purisima Mountain Syrah 2012 – Steve Beckman talked about making Syrah for 20 years sourcing grapes from the entire region. “We were quickly and easily convinced that Ballard Canyon was uniquely special for Syrah. This is a warm area that acts like a coor region. I think this wine is a good representation of a cool climate/warm climate Syrah wrapped up in one glass. You get good fruit but also the old world elegance with a silkiness mouthfeel.”

This 100 percent Syrah was delightful from one of the region’s best-known producers. It had a wonderful nose of dark fruit and a reasonable peppery finish.

Stolpman Originals 2012 Syrah – Pete Stolpman introduced the Ballard Canyon bottle with “Ballard Canyon molded around the top of the bottle. Stopman said this lighter and fruitier Syrah came from the vineyard’s original vines. It really was a unique Syrah for the brighter and fresher fruit style.

Rusack 2012 Syrah Reserve – Steve Rusack talked about his family small vineyard. “This wine sees more new oak than our other wines. I think it showcases what we can do at Rusack with many different blocks of vineyard, We want to show what we can do with different vintages and this is a good representation of that.

Rusack sets in the center of Ballard Canyon and gets the wine right. I loved the balanced and sily mouth feel of this Syrah about all the others. I thought Beckman would be my favorite wine before we started but the Rusack is in the hunt. Delightful mouthfeel and drinkable wine.Rusack has the only tasting room in the canyon. Some have tasting rooms in other locations.

Harrison Clarke Cuvee Charlotte 2010 Syrah – Hillarie Clarke, owner, talked about the small production winery. “Our wine making is very minimalistic,” she said. “We use very little sulfur, adding it just a couple of weeks before we bottle. I think what makes this wine special is the limestone gives it that minerality.”

The wine had really nice pronounced fruit on the front of the palate but too much acid on the finish.

Larner 2010 Estate Syrah – Mike Larner said “we try to be true to our soil, climate and my father’s devotion to Cornas. What was unique about Larner and I started to see it when we got together with other winemakers is our soil characteristic.”

This wine had a wonderful blance showing the deft hand of a talented winemaker. Big fruit, a nice finish and a delightful food Saarloos of Saarloos and Sons. “Syrah sucks but in the hands of these different artists it becomes something beautiful.”

“You can now visit Burgundy in Santa Rita Hills, Bordeaux in Happy Canyon, and Northern Rhone in Ballard Canyon.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to taste his wine.

Beckman and Rusack were the winners for me today!