|The Northern Rhône runs along the steep slopes of the gorge from Vienne to just south of Valence|
We continue our series of sessions with the Fredericksburg Tasting Room team we are calling "The Experience Wine Class." We will be watching and meeting for the purpose of expanding our knowledge and experience with wine. Our guide will be Jancis Robinson's Wine Course, an excellent resource! Aired in the United Kingdom in 1995 and is fascinating to see both areas where the wine industry has NOT changed and areas where it HAS. You can watch it all on YouTube!
Episode 5- Syrah A.K.A. Shiraz is a example where we can see a change in the wine world; in the mid-late nineties Syrah was a darling variety, many of us expected to see it explode in sales. Myself included and we can see the anticipation in the faces of the Syrah growers and vintners. Only that sales explosion never happened, and today many wine drinkers still think of Syrah as one of the "other reds" and not as one of the greatest wine grapes in the world. Jancis and the personalities she introduces to us will show us otherwise...
Jancis has shown us in episode 1 through 3; where the New World and Old World are different; climate, geology, and techniques. She has also shown us the commonality of the monumental struggle to overcome the unique challenges each region and each producer faces. Episode 4- Sauvignon Blanc added another layer of complexity as Mrs. Robinson showed us the dynamic and bold people who made the world's most famous examples of the wine; their personalities mirror the "savage" characteristics of the grape! All this foundation comes together is this show about our beloved Syrah! Here we will see the how two men in very different parts of the world use the same grape to bring their communities together and make them prosperous at the same time, in such a way that it has a positive effects in very livelihoods of everyone in the community... amazing events!
We start out in the Northern Rhone Valley, in France, as we hear about the sinister side of success; in this case attracting an armed gang that attacked the home Marcel Guigal of E. Guigal fame. As the information is filled in we find out that in addition to threats Monsieur Guigal has received other offers/demands for his wine; including blank checks, Ferraris and women! As the tour continues we see the cave where the barrels of aging wine are lined up in a peaceful setting they call "The Cathedral to Wine." In bright contrast doors open to the mechanized and computerized receiving lines, two of them in case one fails, where there is a buzz of activity as growers are bringing their crops in to sell to Marcel. We are shown how tough and detail oriented he can be and we can see how his success supports this thriving farm community and how the community supports the Guigals and the dynamic tension this relationship creates.
As an intermission to the drama we visit California with Jancis... Fred Cline, of Cline Cellars, has a vineyard gold mine in the Oakland area where the sandy soil has some of the oldest Mourvèdre vines in California, planted by the European immigrant farmers. Next we meet Doug Danielak who has a bad case of Syrah fever as he shows Jancis the Paras Vineyard where the famous Jade Mountain Syrahs once came from, alas the brand was sold off and lost it's former glory. The wine was made by Doug under the Paras Vineyard label. It was incredible! Tragically; in 2017 wildfires burned up the vineyards! In this video standing in the Paras Vineyard Doug says “Syrah is one of the world’s greatest grapes!”
"In California Syrah was an ultra fashionable rarity in and in Australia it grew like a weed..." Jancis explains as she gives us the brief history of the Barossa Valley which was settled by Lutherans fleeing Germany's turmoil of the time. Their hard work build this community and transformed it into a little bit of Germany in Australia. (Does this sound familiar to anyone in Fredericksburg, Texas?) In the 1970’s the big wine business came to the Barossa, the Accountants had full control. The accountants had worked out the cost of making wine and when a glut of grapes came along in 1979 the big business did not honor their contracts and refused to buy ANY grapes from the BarossaValley. In steps Peter Lehmann, son of a Lutheran pastor, built a local winery on the fly and bought the Valley’s entire production for the vintage; saving many of the local farmers from financial ruin. Affectionately his peers nicknamed him the “Bishop of Barossa.” He rules from the "weighbridge" at his winery where the growers bring him their grapes to buy. Here too his support of the community and the communities support of Peter is the only way all of them were able to find success. You can see the growers gratitude and appreciation of Peter in their faces. There is a very genuine, honest and sincere atmosphere here at the weighbridge, it has a comfortable and friendly feeling. Mr. Lehmann also says; “Shiraz is one of the world’s greatest grapes.”
So, the same way the dynamic personalities said a lot about the wines in episode four; similarly these generous, supporting and driven men who make some of the world's greatest Syrah also mirror the wine they make. I have not had any other wine as frequently and I can not find another wine that delivers so much complexity and flavor at all price points. For ME; Syrah A.K.A. Shiraz IS the world's greatest grape variety!!!
If you will read this handout which has a few notes from the video and a lot of information and links to more on the web related to the topics Jancis covers, hopefully it adds to the subjects and fills you in on where the personalities from the video are today. It is my sincere hope that you are finding this blog informative and instructional.