The Merrill family have been in the Californian agricultural realm for 8 generations. It was seventh generation Dana Merrill who began raising wine grapes in 1981 and founded the family’s vineyard management group, Mesa Vineyard Management, in 1989. From then until now, the Merrills have worked with some prestigious vineyards and big-name winemakers. It wasn’t until 2002 that Dana purchased Pomar Junction Vineyard on Templeton’s South El Pomar Road in Paso Robles. The family spent six years transitioning the 40-acre vineyard to SIP Certified standards and renovating the property’s lone building into the current tasting room. While the family continues to source grapes from other regions, their estate line — which celebrated a premier vintage in 2011 — is solely focused on what their piece of Paso does best: Rhone and Bordeaux varietals.
While I was researching for a recent article about California Rhone varieties, winemaker Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards said something interesting to me. “Syrah is the winemaker’s grape,” he said, “It’s hard for consumers to understand it, but winemaker’s love it.” While it’s true that all grapes — and produce in general — is a product of its environment, there’s something about the Syrah grape that is so impacted even by the subtle nuances of its surroundings. Thus, as I’ve said before, Syrah can express itself quite differently even from vineyards within the same AVA — even from blocks within the same vineyard! Well, at 2500 feet of elevation, Halcón is one of the highest vineyards in California, so you can be sure this Syrah will taste unlike any other you’ve had before.
I was introduced to MacLaren by winemaker and good friend Cindy Cosco of Passaggio. After visiting her tasting room in the Sonoma Square, she literally took me by the hand and walked me just a few doors down. Who could escape a recommendation like that? Needless to say — though I’ll say it anyway — I wasn’t disappointed. Their focus is single-vineyard expressions of single varietals. And while their Pinot Noir was memorable, their Sauvignon Blanc as dry as I like it, it was their Syrah that was the real standout. If you’ve never experienced a Syrah tasting where the only difference is the specific vineyard source, I highly recommend it. You’ll be amazed at the different ways the grape can express itself even within the same
AVA. And with four Syrahs on their current release list, MacLaren is the perfect place to conduct this wine-nerdy experiment. I did, and I couldn’t walk away without this 2012 Stagecoach Vineyard Syrah.
Sourced from the rugged terroir of the Vaca Mountain foothills, the consistency of quality fruit the Shafer family harvests year after year is, indeed, persistent, continuing, nonstop, never-ending, interminable, unceasing, endless — relentless. But, as proprietor Doug Shafer says, the “soul” of this wine comes from the winery’s long time winemaker, Elias Fernandez, whose tireless attention to detail seems to create a new level of quality with each vintage. “And so Relentless emerged as a testament to both a person and a place.”
The lone Rhone in the Canadian wine profile seems to be Syrah, and yet this is the first grape planted to the Desert Hills Estate Three Boys Vineyard along the Black Sage Bench. Here, due to glacial retreat, the land is made up of gravelly limestone soils — perfect for a grape that enjoys a bit of forced rigor, like Syrah. The Toor family purchased their Three Boys Vineyard back in 1988, planted their first grapes in 1994, and is today the 25-acre home vineyard site for Desert Hills.