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Rhone Rangers, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to promoting American Rhone-style wines, supporting the winemakers who choose to put a New World spin on Old World wine, and — of course — educating the public about the unique and versatile wines produced from all of this research and labour. During the 2016 Rhone Rangers Seminar and Grande Tasting in San Francisco, I had the privilege to learn directly from local, West Coast winemakers who work to move beyond common “Syrah-stereotypes.”

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The day started with a seminar featuring 12 different winemakers who provided an in-depth look at their particular Syrahs.
It’s amazing, tasting 12 different wines of the same varietal — you learn just how broad the Syrah spectrum really is

First Set of Presenters: Ben Cane ( Westwood) Steve Gower (Crux Winery), Sara Schneider (Moderator), K.D. Organ (Tenet Wines), Chris Pittennger (Skinner Vineyards), Randall Graham (Bonny Doon), Bill Easton (Terre Rouge)
Second Set of Presenters: Peter Stoplman (Stolpman Vineyards), James Callahan (Rune Wines), Sara Schneider (Moderator), Christopher Whaley (Wrath Wines), Bob Lindquist (Qupe), Carl Bowker (Caliza), Craig Jaffurs (Jaffurs Wine Cellar)
Grande Tasting Crowd: This is only one of the three tasting rooms at the event!
Silent Auction: No I didn’t win anything. But I’ll gladly accept free samples!

Following the all-too brief seminar (personally, I could listen to wine lectures for hours on end), Rhone Rangers provided a Grande Tasting with over 60 wineries showcasing anywhere between 2 and 10 wines each. Yes, that is a lot of wine and quite a big crowd — it would be very easy for a wanna-be wine snob (aka: novice) like me to become overwhelmed. So, I chose to use this time to get to know some of the presenting wineries from the preceding seminar a little better.

Stolpman Vineyards

I’m going to start straight-away with my favorite Syrah for the day. Because of the warm-weather climate, their dry-farming methods, and of course that Aussie influence, Stolpman produces a visually light, bright, jewel-red Syrah with a flavor to match.
I stopped by their tasting table during the Grande Tasting where they had — to my enthusiastic surprise — a Roussanne. Round mouthfeel, hints of stone fruits, and a long oaky, somewhat buttery finish. Stolpman also wins the award for most unique varietal of the day in my book.

Skinner Vineyards

Skinner Vineyards’s Syrah is actually a bit of a blend (a’la a French Rhone). They’re 2013 vintage contains 86% Syrah; 9% Viognier; and 5% Cuonise.
Rose of the Day: Whereas most winemakers use (for lack of a better word) “leftovers” of other varietals to create a rosé, Skinner’s 40% Mourvedre, 35% Counoise, 25% Grenache grapes are all grown, picked, and pressed (with skins intact) for the sole purpose of creating this rosé. The result is a very light, bone-dry, salmon-pink wine that’s perfect for sipping on a warm day, versatile enough to pair with any cuisine.

Jaffurs Wine Cellars

I’m looking at my tasting notes from the Jaffur’s Syrah and the first thing I wrote was “dark dark dark” and, after smelling the wine, “that dirt! gravel!” It truly is one of the darkest-hued wines I’ve ever seen. Even owner and winemaker Craig Jaffurs refers to this particular vintage as the “blackest wine.”
Their 2015 Grenache Blanc is so clear in the glass, to look at it you’d think you were drinking water. If Jaffur’s Syrah was the boldest wine of the day, then their Grenache Blanc was certainly the most mellow.
Up Close: Jaffer’s Grenache Blanc in the glass.

Rune Wines

Ok, I know, just like a book you’re not supposed judge a wine by its…label…but I can’t help it. Rune has to win the award for best labels.

Victorious after a vicious battle, the warrior stands amongst the slain. He breathes in the deep, dark aroma of the blood of the fallen men. But just then a breeze wafts by bringing scents of orange blossoms and sweet, juicy fruits. His mind and body are now calm as he thinks of home and the lover he will soon return to. (Short story/interpretation by Stacy Briscoe)

 Crux Winery

I have to give credit to the winery that convinced me to complete a full flight at their tasting table. Thank you to Steve Gower and Brian Callahan, owners and winemakers of Crux Winery, who took me on a wine journey…
Steve Gower and Brian Callahan of Crux Winery

My honorable mention goes to Leverage who, although did not present at the
seminar was one of the most engaging representatives at the Grande Tasting.

The Grenache has, what I call, an “open mind.” You start with calm, somewhat watery fruits, which are then balanced with a distinct amount of oak for a round mouthfeel, and then you end with just enough tannins to give the wine (and your tastebuds) a little extra oomph.
Their rosé has a warm and friendly attitude with a surprising amount of depth for a pink-colored wine. (The Secret Ingredient: a bit of Petite Syrah…shhhhh…)
Jason DiFrancisco of Leverage Wines (right)

San Francisco Wine School

Just some silly fun with the reps from SF Wine School. Although I must admit, I’m becoming increasingly interested in their CWAS program. Any friendly discounts?

Wine Tats!
I wish I could have stayed longer, tasted more, and met more experts in the wine industry. My thirst for wine knowledge seems unquenchable. But I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to sit in on the seminar, engage with the winemakers I was able to meet, and pass along the lessons and love I received from this event. Cheers!

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