Calling all California Syrah lovers… Ballard Canyon AVA, near Santa Ynez, is an eclectic treasure trove of artisan Syrah and Rhone varietal producers. Part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, this sleepy enclave is relatively unknown to the throngs of visitors as the mainstream tasting rooms are in downtown Los Olivos.
The scenery alone will take your breath away. On recommendation from a San Diego winemaker, I contacted Harrison-Clarke Winery for a personal tour and tasting in February. Co-owner Roger Harrison was kind enough to guide us on an in-depth walking tour of the vineyards.
Harrison-Clarke Winery is situated on 12 acres, planted to Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier. Neighboring vineyards include Beckman and Stolpman who also produce amazing Rhone varietals. Interestingly, the week of our visit, many of the original Syrah vines had been grafted to a Spanish clone of Mourvedre for a wider spectrum of varietals.
Our tour reached a crescendo with a private barrel tasting with Hilarie Clarke, winemaker extraordinaire. Wine stave in hand, Hilarie first poured the 2013 Grenache, an aromatic nose of bright cherry and raspberry, with licorice, white pepper, sweet cinnamon & allspice. Next, we tasted the 2013 Eve e Maria, an artful lush blend of Syrah and Grenache, redolent of dark cherries, anise and crushed rock.
Finally, as if it couldn’t get any better, Hilarie poured the 2013 Syrah Estate, ever so opulent with supple tannins, showing notes of blackberries, licorice, tar, graphite and herbes de Provence.
Just for the afternoon, we felt like we were Rhone Rangers in a foreign land, far away from everything. Que Syrah, Syrah! www.harrisonclarkewine.com