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May 2018

Satellite Wine Club, May 2018

Storm Wines - Slide Hill Syrah 2016, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo, CA

Storm Wines - “Storm & Rea” Syrah 2016 - Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge,  Western Cape, ZA



I’ve got a ‘bru’,

You’ve got one too,

He makes great wine, 

With berries, blue!

You’ll feel so fine,

From the fruit of his vines,

On continents, two!

Ernst Storm, my bru (South African for bro, bro!) makes wines so good they’ll make you rhyme awkwardly - I guarantee it. 

Ernst is a South African import and we’re lucky to have him here in our lovely Santa Barbara wine paradise. After years as an understudy in great wineries here and in his native South Africa, Ernst unleashed Storm Wines on the world. With those first 6 barrels of Sauvignon Blanc he never looked back. As an independent winemaker he is scrappy, selling all his wine in person and hand delivering each order by hand... two cases high at a time. When I see a tower of cases walking through the door and hear a “Hey BRU!”, I know I’ll be drinking well in no-time.

Ernst doesn’t have a wine club yet… 12 years into his winery, he doesn’t need it! (Though he is planning to launch one later this year, our wine club will do the trick for the moment). The man is focused. He is interested, solely, in representing the origin of his wines - With No Makeup!

Ernst’s wines are not about polish or refinement, they’re elegantly honest. They are sensation; an essence of place. His simple winemaking is a sort-of portal straight to the root of the vine. There is earth as much as there is fruit in his bottles. Ernst does not mess with his precious grapes, he encourages them to sing their own songs: harvested at their earliest ripeness, fermented with their own native yeasts, and allowed long, quiet repose in neutral barrels to open and integrate their complex harmonies. The wines always have significant structure: intense early-harvested acidity, the best available old-stock vineyards, neither fined nor filtered, nor pounded with additions or mechanical beatings. He uses gravity to rack wines between tanks to avoid agitation which can introduce bacteria and oxygen, requiring more SO2. His philosophy in winemaking reflects the utmost confidence in & respect for the grapes he is so fortunate to access. 

This month I am honored to become the “Storm Wines Wine Club”, if just for this special moment. Ernst brought me two brand new wines, freshly released, each coming into their own.  I fell in love. I think you will too. 

So, my bru’s, go grab a decanter, a thick cut of marbled meat (a marinated portobello mushroom will do in a pinch**), a squad of your own best bru’s, and dive in to these exceptional wines. They will speak to you as they speak to each other and to the whole world of Syrah. 


A Quick Word On Syrah

Syrah is a cult. 

It is one of the ‘noblest’, one of the most broadly planted varietals (the 6th, actually), one of those which will grow well and elegantly in a wide range of geographies. It is a powerhouse, capable of intensity and grace in some of the coldest climates where it struggles to reach ripeness and may only achieve 12.5-13% alcohol - as in the northern Rhone, its home. Our wines this month are Cold Climate Syrah as you’ll come to find out! Syrah is also famously popular when grown in warmer climes like the southern Rhone and Languedoc where it is oft-blended with Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan. It is grown, sometimes in nice quality just to our North in Paso Robles, but often with a fat over-ripeness and a nasty level of alcohol. Beware, winestronaut, there are dirty winemaking tricks afoot; acidification, watering back, covering flaws with excess oak… and don’t get me started with mega purple :( 

The Rhone Rangers, our local Rhone-headed producers have made great leaps at local Syrah and Syrah dominant blends that stand tall in the central coast. It is a complete fascination in Australia where the eucalyptus trees and iron soils seem to inject themselves in the essence of Shiraz. Whether its France, Italy, Spain, Australia, South Africa, Switzerland, California, hell, let’s add Turkey to the list, Syrah can make something wonderful.  

Syrah is reliant on lower yields to show its most complex and compelling elements, particularly its typical savory qualities. Vines must be pruned back and are best grown in exceptionally challenging soils that devigorate it’s growth. Syrah grown in these conditions can achieve profound density and ageability, with savory qualities that can range from salty spice to dry aged beef. Syrahs can drink like a meal, and are exceptional food wines, with culinary flavors; but only when done right. 

The classic identifier for a glass of Syrah is the intensity of blue fruit. Blueberry pie is a common call here on our Tuesday night blind flights and a dead giveaway for this openly powerful varietal. 

The grape is home, like the other noble grapes, in a whole host of regions. We are supremely lucky, as usual my Santa Barbara winestronauts, to have a particularly lovely Syrah zone in out backyard. It performs particularly well in coastally influenced regions like Edna Valley, where it’s just 7 miles from the sea and regularly draped in cool fog with hot desert-like afternoons, and chilly nights. We grow great Syrah in Santa Barbara’s eastern Ballard Canyon too, but with more heat comes a bit more ripeness and an extra degree of alcohol which presents a challenge to winemakers. There are many cool-climate Syrah pretenders in this Central Coast region, but Edna valley is one of my favorite zones for its inherent long, slow, cool growing season. Think of it loosely as an analogue to the Northern Rhone. 

However you like your Syrah, embrace it! Whether it be 100% whole cluster at 12.0% abv from the extreme Northern Rhone or Switzerland, or if you like it jammy, pushing 16% with added acidity from Eastern Paso Robles, or if you like it just like I do, from cooler climates, made simply, with excellent farming and a complete spectrum of complex flavors: Choose your own Syrah adventure!


Storm Wines - Slide Hill Syrah 2016, Edna Valley, CA

Let us begin here at home. California’s central coast is graced with the potential to grow essentially anything, with a spectrum of climates and soil types that is quite limitless and yet still underexplored. And we’re changing with global warming (I think of it more as ‘weirding’) to be drier in some areas, colder in others, and less-reliable across the board. 

There is a place, though, that can consistently make me smile. It’s the Edna Valley, where anything appears to be possible. It’s a place growing the grapes of the cool German Rhine and Northern French Alsace. A place where Gewurztraminer and Riesling are as common as Grenache and Chardonnay. An odd little valley just south of downtown SLO, with terrific agriculture and a constant connection to the ocean just 7 miles away. It is known for having one of the longest growing seasons in the United States (perfect for our complex, tense, and delicious Syrah).

In the southern tip of this special little valley is a special 39 acre vineyard called Slide Hill. This special place makes special wines in a special way. *SPECIAL*. Farmed biodynamically since 2009 on steep, wind-swept slopes, this vineyard produces complex, long lived Syrahs with great density and structure. Brook Williams, the farmer responsible the Slide Hill also works the legendary Duvarita Vineyard just south in Santa Rita Hills. Ernst’s Slide Hill Syrah is a clear translation of the hard work of Brook and his team in that special place.

The more floral, high toned of the two. With more of a punchy, zippy berry forward profile, it reminds me of a frutti-di-boschi berry sauce my mum makes for weekend crepes! This is the ‘bluer’ of the two as well, with more blueberry/blackberry notes teeming out of the glass. It carries a whole host of herbal notes as well, and I have no doubt that as it ages it will continue to unleash more layers of fun. 

This is an archetypal Cold Climate Central Coast Syrah. It’s incredibly robust, with an insane intensity and freshness readily available at opening. As the glass sits a harmony of floral, fruit, savory spice, and mountain herbs build layer-by-layer. This nose drinks nice.

Yes, this wine is totally young. Yes, It can age for a decade, heck, why not two or three?? I suggest opening this when you’re ready to think, when you have time to barbecue, eat, and laugh with it. It is both carefree and still totally tense. Know that it is 6 months younger than its brother, the Hemel-en-Aarde Syrah from South Africa and that wine has totally opened up and will continue to unveil hidden sensations. If you can wait, let it rest a while longer and you’ll be rewarded, if you can’t, drink it up and love the weight and scale of this inky intense beast. It’s wild and pure, and just GREAT. 

Production Notes:

  • Biodynamic Vineyard with 30+ year vines
  • 15% Whole Cluster, remaining destemmed, 6 Day Cold Soak, 14 Day on-skin fermentation
  • Aged 17 Months in neutral oak barrels on heavy lees (dead yeast)
  • Manually pressed with traditional basket press
  • Gravity movements between tanks only
  • No fining or filtering
  • 125 Cases Produced

$44 @ Satellite SB


Storm Wines - “Storm & Rea” Syrah 2016 - Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Western Cape, ZA

Who’s barbecuing? Pop this bottle and *whammy*, the smell the roasting meat, spice, dust, and sunshine! Welcome to South Africa Bru!

Seriously, there is an undertone that convinces me there was a barbecue roasting 24/7 in this vineyard! An iron-rich soil gives it a ferrous, bloody character one finds more commonly in Barossa Valley of Australia. 

The wine was grown at the Babylon vineyard in the highest section of the the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley of South Africa’s Western Cape. This valley is a supremely coastal one, with not so subtle similarities to our own east-west coastal Valley.

It’s a rustic completely place-driven wine. It’s got the earth in it. Wonderful acidity refreshes the palate and gives lift to each of the primary fruits, secondary herbs, and tertiary mineral iron and cured meatiness. It’s all blueberry raspberry tart and bright. No makeup on this wine for sure. It’s brilliance is its reflection of terroir, its complexity is grounded in its simplicity! Woo, I like to drink it.

Ernst sent me a few notes on the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, they follow here: 

“I grew up in the town of Hermanus. The Hemel-en-Aarde( It means Heaven and Earth) Valley is broken up into three wards, Hemel-en Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. The Farm (Babylon) where the Syrah comes from is owned by La Vierge a local winery. It is dry farmed on medium fertile clay based soils. They farm sustainably and about 3 miles from where my bro is. 

This is a cool climate region by South African standards, and the maritime influence is key to this, with cool breezes blowing up the valley. Rainfall is higher here than in many other Cape wine regions, which makes irrigation unnecessary. 

The wines were both fermented native with no additions except for SO2 after malo and before bottling. The chemistry came out as expected. We try to maintain a certain freshness in the wines by picking at a lower potential alc. It is expected that the acid will be higher. I am always aiming for something in the 6 - 6.4 g/l range on Syrah. Syrah in the style is so robust and can handle a little acid.

I think the gravelly loam soils and biodynamic farming at Slide hill gives the wine a more polished feel while the more rugged landscape and clay rich soils form the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge gives the wine a more rustic and untamed feel.

Let me know if you need more info bru.”

I’m good, bru!

Production Notes:

  • Sustainable Vineyard with very low vigor ferrous, shale derived clay soil
  • 15% Whole Cluster, remaining destemmed, 6 Day cold soak, 14 Day on-skin fermentation
  • Aged 14 Months in neutral oak barrels on heavy lees (dead yeast)
  • Manually pressed with traditional basket press
  • Gravity movements between tanks only
  • No fining or filtering
  • 233 cases produced

$36 @ Satellite SB


Two Beautiful Wines, from two different continents, with almost everything else the same. 

Blue Fruit, Meat, Herbs, Iron, Earth, and Stormy Daniels references.

This is May at Satellite.

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