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Tannin management is one of the priorities of Winemaker Stewart Cameron here at Ancient Peaks, where we are frankly obsessed with creating balanced wines with firm—but not astringent—structure.
A perfect example is the 2014 Syrah “Jackpot” from our estate Margarita Vineyard, which will be first shared with wine club members in February, and in our tasting room shortly thereafter.
Unlike more naturally tannic varieties such as Petit Sirah, Petit Verdot and even Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah can often need encouragement to raise the tannin profile.
Therefore, on half of the 2014 Syrah, Stewart employed “whole-cluster” fermentation, whereby the stems are included in the fermentation bins, ultimately enhancing the tannin presence. “Whole-cluster fermentation gives you more savory characteristics and more complexity, along with a tannin bump that affects the perceived dryness of the wine,” Stewart says.
Whole-cluster fermentation, however, is very labor intensive and has its own pitfalls if not managed properly. For the 2014 Syrah, for example, the whole-cluster portion was done on a later pick with riper fruit. “You don’t want the tannins you pick up from the stems to taste young and green, which is why we waited to do the whole-cluster portion on the riper fruit,” he says.
The end result is a Syrah that is loaded with rich, velvety dark fruit flavors—but it also exhibits noticeable backbone that takes it to another level.
Stewart says that his approach to Syrah is inspired by the wines of Cornas in the northern Rhône Valley, where whole-cluster fermentation is part of the local winemaking tradition.
“There are a lot of California Rhône-style wines that are really pleasurable in a softer, fruit-driven way,” Stewart says. “We want our Syrah to exhibit some of those qualities, but we’re also aiming for something with added complexity and the ability to age well.”
Keep an eye out for this Syrah soon in our Paso Robles tasting room, which is also a place to eat in the Paso Robles wine country at the adjoining Ancient Peaks Café.