If you were to ask any of my friends in the wine community what I prefer, they would probably without hesitation tell you that I am a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fanatic. It is not a secret that I am a great advocate of Oregon Chardonnays, our counterparts from Burgundy, Champagne and of course the great Pinot Noirs from the Old World and Oregon. I have made it my life’s work to grow and craft these varietals, so it is only natural to enjoy drinking them as well. But what most people don’t know about me, except for my production staff, harvest interns and my wife, is that I also love Syrah from the Northern Rhône and other special places.
When Syrah is done right, it is one of the best red wines in the world. I have admired it for many years. Unfortunately, there is a sea of industrially-produced Syrah from many corners of the world, which does not resemble the variety’s noble ancestry. Syrah can be sweet, cloying and overly oaked – resembling a flat soda pop or cough syrup, not marrying well with anything, much less food. But when Syrah is done correctly, it is mysterious, complex, thrilling. Sound familiar? The story is similar to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So it was with great pleasure after 18 years of making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Bergström Wines, that I decided we should jump feet first into Syrah….. literally.
This spring, I will unveil our first vintage of Syrah under the “gargantua” label from the 2013 vintage. Two wines sold together, one from Oregon and the other California, both thoughtfully crafted at Bergström Wines. I have hand selected great vineyard sites in both states for their perfection of soils, exposure, climate and farming, vis-à-vis Syrah. The grapes are hand-picked, fermented in a traditional whole cluster style (no destemming) and aged in large format French oak demi-muids and ovals. We cellared the wines for two years prior to release to allow for optimum texture and flavor development.
The Name and Label
Gargantuan is an enormous word, representing the concept of giant, massive, colossal and monumental. Our version of gargantua, with the text intentionally presented in small, lower case type, speaks to the creation of wines that are balanced, reserved and driven by acidity and perfume.
Gargantua is named after François Rabelais’ 16th century book called “Gargantua et Pantagruel” about two hedonistic giants. Their world was filled with extravagant debauchery that held comedy, irreverence, obscenity and adventure. I believe that everyone has a Gargantua hidden inside of them, with mine being a love of hearty, earthy, meaty Syrahs.
The gargantua labels are original paintings created by my childhood friend Nat Meade, a talented and thoughtful artist living in Brooklyn New York. I encourage you to visit his website to discover his vivid expressions on canvas. When I made the decision to bring our Syrah to life at Bergström Wines, I thought immediately of Nat to develop my label images. The paintings depict a man whose shadow is that of a beast: Gargantua. The different colors of each label represent to me the state and appellation character.
The California Syrah comes from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria AVA in Southern California. Serendipity brought me together with the Miller family. Several years ago we attended a wine festival in Montana and I have been anxious to work with their land and vineyard manager, Chris Hammell, ever since. Our fruit comes from one acre high up on the mountain sandwiched between some pretty amazing producers: Qupe, Ojai and Lillian, to name a few. It was those mountainside wines that inspired me in this journey. The Santa Maria and Sta. Rita Hills AVA’s in Southern California are amazing places and worth your investigation. This could be one of the greatest areas on the West Coast of the USA for Syrah.
The Oregon Syrah is a real “coup de Coeur.” I believe that some pockets of Oregon, including the Willamette Valley, are perfectly suited for high-end and delicious Syrah production. We are working with three vineyards to craft this wine. The first is the Folin Vineyard in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. The next two are in the Willamette Valley and owned by two of my wine heroes: Steve Doerner and David Adelsheim.
The Washington Syrah will come from the “Les Collines” Vineyard in 2015. More on that later.
These wines will be sold together in mixed six- pack so our most loyal supporters can try them side by side and discover the nuances of these two West Coast Syrahs. The goal of gargantua is rejoicing in the many micro-climates of the West Coast and to compare and contrast. These wines are different in their expression and that is what we celebrate.
Allocations for these small lots are given through our new mailing list. Bergstrom Wines club members will receive the first opportunity to sign up for this new mailing list and then it will open up to those interested. There will be one release per vintage.
These wines are 18 years in the making and so I hope that you celebrate them as much as I am enjoying bringing them to life.
Harvey Steiman recently had the chance to taste these wines. Read more about his thoughts at The Wine Spectator.