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Jan 2022

Satellite Wine Club, January 2022

Sights on Syrah

Toshokan - 'Perli Vineyard' - Syrah - Mendocino Ridge, CA - 2020

$41 Retail, $492/Case $394/Case ($32.83/Bottle)

Leitmotif - 'Slide Hill Vineyard' - Syrah - Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, CA - 2017

$58 Retail, $696/Case $557/Case ($46.41/Bottle)


I have a treat for you. It comes in the form of wine that tastes blue. 

Blue? Yes Blue. Think blueberries. Cobbler, Jam, Handfuls, Basketfuls, Mouthfuls. Blue-stained fingers and blue-stained shirts. Blue every which way. 

Is it synesthesia? Yes. But it’s also simply Syrah. 

I love Syrah and, I think, so should everyone. It’s a tremendously expressive grape and in the right hands it makes wines that transcend into the bluest of blue yonders… Aging and evolving endlessly, showing all elements of terroir and culture and winemaking choices… and blue. It usually shows blue. 

Now, you might just say: “Drew, the labels are blue and that’s making you think blue, it doesn’t taste blue”... and you’d be right, but only about the labels. These wines taste blue and that’s Blueberry Hill I choose to die on!

So who makes these wines and why are we drinking them??

These are two visionary young winemakers. Both highly skilled, driven by farm, not ego. They are the kind of craftsmen working to honor, not drown-out the quality of the fruit they work with. 

From Toshokan we meet Winemaker Tim Sakhuja - a self described Curator or Librarian of natural wine-farming in California (Toshokan means Library in Japanese after all). Alongside his girlfriend Ayaka, Tim sets his style of winemaking firmly in the Californian pantheon. For this duo it’s neither about fame nor fancy.. Not points nor polish. Their wine is the captured essence of a vintage, a harvest, a place both in time and space - and all the feelings that come with it. These wines are less about referencing other syrahs from the old world and really an expression of the here, the now, the living, expanding world of California natural wine. This is a wine meant to evoke freshness, and to be paired with freshness just the same. 

In the other corner we find Stephen Searle of Leitmotif. Stephen is one of our oldest wine friends at Satellite, we’ve featured his SBC Pinot Noir nearly continuously since opening and have bought every wine he’s made. Stephen is the head winemaker at Jaffurs Wine Co. here in Santa Barbara, a classic Rhône Ranger outfit. While his preference for a lighter hand has permeated the style of wines there, his true passion and skill shines in Leitmotif. The recipe is simple and always the same. Fruit from the coldest organically farmed sites in the SB & SLO Counties, fermented naturally, aged in neutral barrels, with absolutely minimal intervention at every step.  His Slide Hill Syrah, which you now possess, is one of the great Syrahs in Santa Barbara and I’m so stoked to share it. 

This month the theme is syrah, but more so it is what these Syrahs capture. This essential synesthesia in both wines: Blue - but also the warmth of the sun on a high ridge above the fog, the soft ocean breeze rolling through herb-packed vine rows. This month is yet another Satellite focus on the farm, captured by those who seek great farming - and honor it. 

Now, once again I’ll leave it to my man, Sean Magruder, for the meat and potatoes… and blueberries of this month’s selection. 


…And never have I been hungrier for berry season in the Santa Ynez Valley. While we embrace the changing of seasons, waving bittersweet goodbyes to gourds and salutations to citrus, I can’t help but wonder: Oh, U-Pick, where art thou??? But a man of constant sorrow I ain’t, for through a purple-toothed grin and (yes, frozen-) blueberry-bedazzled fingers I bring you two chromatically-correct California crushers, capitans swinging their feet over the meticulously shepherded cool-climate vineyards they call home. In other words - we’ve got a couple of bottles to drool over. Happy New Year.

January also evokes a little Santa Barbara nostalgia in yours truly. Six days after moving to town, on a friend’s recommendation (and amidst a mysterious covid-like winter cold [deja-vu currently peaking]), I perused the Satty website from the comfort of my cardboard box-littered home. There I stumbled upon the January 2021 Wine Club write-up. It highlighted my favorite grape (Syrah) in my favorite place (Avila Beach) and lockdown-weary eyes lit up as my TV-dinner-garbage disposal of a mouth watered…  

Well, it’s another January, there’s another virus surge, and we’re talking more Syrah… time is a flat circle, forming underneath my overflowing wine glass. And with these brisk 63 degree dog days of winter, I’m dubbing January the month of warmin’ wines. Ditch the mits, grab your glass and let’s go. 

Toshokan - 'Perli Vineyard' - Syrah - Mendocino Ridge, CA - 2020

$41 Retail, $492/Case $394/Case ($32.83/Bottle)

We’ll start by adding a whole palette to our blue bushel. In 2017 Toshokan began harvesting Mourvèdre from the Sierra Foothills before expanding westward both ideologically via rare, old-school-is-new-school grapes like Ribolla Gialla and literally, into unconventional Lodi and Mendocino vineyards. 

Two minutes on winemaker Tim Sakhuja’s Instagram reveal a commitment to tasting the rainbow sans-Skittles, with morel browns and chanterelle oranges among the earth tones devouring the man’s days. His header (@tsakhuja): “Getting up close and personal with dirt.” Tell me you’re a winemaker without telling me you’re a winemaker… I can dig it.

Greening his thumbs with natty titans Donkey & Goat and famed Napa vigneron Steve Matthiasson, Tim, and girlfriend Ayaka, are true foragers of fungi, flower and field. Their straightforward philosophy - to receive and reflect raw Californian bounty - extends oh so naturally to their grapes, all of which are sourced from consciously-farmed sites. Sites like Perli Vineyard.

Planted in 1999 by a pioneer of the Mendocino Ridge AVA, this pastoral paradise sits seven miles from the coast and nearly 2000 feet above it, bear-hugged by redwoods, madrones and firs. Indeed, it’s so remote our large, furry, state flag friends are everywhere, snacking on grower Steve Alden’s fruit and generally living la dolce vita. Perched atop the fog line, sharply steep slopes at significant elevation intensify the sunlight these Syrah vines, interspersed with a little Grenache and Viognier, receive every azure-skied afternoon. 

It’s charming yet rough. Rugged. On the fringe. Where boundaries are literally pushed and pulled uphill from the craggy marine uplift dominating the landscape. Can you smell what the Rocks are cookin??

A short sidebar: Syrah is HARD to grow, HARDER to render into wine. Culprits include sensitivity to wind and nutrient deficiencies; not to mention an ominous little thing called Syrah Decline Disorder. A hanging contradiction of a grape, the robust yet delicate pride of France’s Northern Rhône Valley makes itself right at home in the golden state. Especially near the coast. You can’t throw a rock in Santa Barbara without hitting an apostle of cool-climate Syrah. Count me a Syrahpostle.  

Ok, back to our theme. We see in all its glory the murky, bluish-purple bruise hue distinctive of young Syrah. Common to the variety, it fermented entirely whole-cluster (meaning grape stems are all up in this thang), lending green characteristics, increasing the wine’s pH, and lowering its acidity. Here, the process yields that to-be-expected herbaceousness, but with enough acid and fresh flower power to end the war from Haight-Ashbury. 

The young wine is nervy and lifted per its upbringing on the outskirts. A stone slab of leafy hillside blueberries, rosemary and a dash of white pepper. Finely-tuned tannins with a zippy yet soft mouthfeel and berries crushed by rocks finish the feisty mountain whoop. 

A refreshingly honest game of telephone between vineyard, vinification and vino voyager, this wine is also a call to arms for restraint, honesty, and simplicity - in farming, winemaking, and the long, strange trip this life has been and continues to be. Ramble on, rose.

Leitmotif - 'Slide Hill Vineyard' - Syrah - Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, CA - 2017

$58 Retail, $696/Case $557/Case ($46.41/Bottle)

In Leitmotif’s Slide Hill Vineyard Syrah we revisit an old friend, but he’s in a new place and we’re pretty stoked for him. Many know Stephen Searle’s creations at Jaffurs Wine Co., where he’s spent much of the past decade crafting local favorites right under our nose. But like the fog funneling into coveted coastal vineyards, a penchant for funneling cool-climate grapes into his fermenters sparked his Leitmotif label in 2016. Throw that cool-climate Syrahck outside the Milpas Trader Joe’s and you’ll hit a guy just one block down.

Referring to a musical theme central to an idea, character or place in film or opera, Leitmotif is a boutique winery’s boutique winery. We’re talking less than a dozen barrels a vintage, or <300 cases of wine. TINY productions, capturing the untamed spirit of windswept, hyper-Pacific sites in all of their nautical nakedness. These sites include the Duvarita and Kick-On Ranch vineyards, just northwest of the Santa Rita Hills, and Slide Hill. It’s a hop, skip and a jump from Stephen’s alma mater - Cal Poly SLO, where he landed after catching the wine bug in Boston restaurants, stopping for bites between classes and leaving with an admiration for all things oenological. *THICC Bwa-ston accent* How you like them grapes??

Tucked into the Edna Valley’s southeastern pocket, Slide Hill was a piece of the Rancho Corral de Piedra land grant of 1846, which, after swapping hands a number of times, was finally committed to vine in 2002 with 40 acres of Syrah, Grenache and a smidgen of other Rhône and Spanish grapes. Albariño… you are the captain of my heart. Since re-named and shuffled around twice more, its fruit remains highly sought after by producers like Santa Barbara darlings Storm and Andrew Murray. 

Despite the vineyard’s nobly humble if not confusing roots, two decades of biodynamically-farmed sandy soils, harkening the nearby ocean, translate to place-driven bottlings that are nothing but energetic and focused. Not to mention its literal roots were planted by Central Coast nobility - Bob Lindquist, founder of Qupé Winery in 1982 and self-effacing champion of Santa Barbara Syrah ever since.

This blue boy started off right with a three-day cold soak. Cold-soaking involves macerating grapes in their juice at a chilly temperature to deliberately forgo fermentation, all while extracting gorgeous color and a gentle squeeze of tannin. Vinified on native yeasts with 75% stem inclusion (again, just a lil’ green party at the crush pad, no chunky solids nor Jill Stein in your wine), the 16-day ferment was left unfined and unfiltered. Unmanipulated. Undulatory. Wavy like that SLO coast swell. 

It’s also a kick in the pants. Wild berry compote and cured meat enrobed in violet candy. Powerful yet lithe, a deeper lavender to Tokoshan’s cornflower blue, it harnesses the beautiful coastal contradictions of land that’s both slow to warm up and slow to cool down. Land that’s changed hands and crops yet is healthier and truer to its corner of the world than ever before. Land that’s left to speak for itself.

And if Toshokan is like a Californian yodeler singing melodies through the high country, this wine transmits bolder, baritone signals through a Dolby surround system six miles from the Pacific. 20 years’ biodynamic farming and a reverence for minimalism and the natural order carry this leitmotif through our ears and into our bellies, winning hearts and minds in tandem.

As a wise man said presciently in 1999, the year Perli vineyard was planted, just three before Slide Hill: “I’m Blue, da ba dee da ba di”. Touché.


Tastes blue to me!

This is a New Year at Satellite

♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ 

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