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 don’t have a great way to introduce this wine, but I will say that Halcón’s 2015 Cerise Vineyards Pinot Noir is the perfect way to conclude this brief featured series on the winery. Like all the wines I’ve tasted from Halcón, this Pinot Noir is beautifully nuanced — in this case so much so that words (almost) escape me. One thing you should know is that if this wine intrigues you as much as it does me, you’ll want to grab a bottle ASAP — this is Halcón’s first and only vintage using fruit from Cerise Vineyards, as it has since been sold to Kosta Browne.
My first experience with Halcón Vineyards was a taste of their estate Syrah — the great Rhône grape produced in the classic Côte-Rôtie style is what Halcón has built its reputation on. So enamored was I by this Syrah that I am saving it for a week-long series on California Rhônes as a prime example of what our great state can do with these grapes from my favorite region of the wine Motherland. (Sorry, folks, you’ll have to wait a bit longer to hear more…)
I mention this because, having spoken to a lot of Rhône winemakers from various California regions, I’ve heard one comment quite a bit. And that is that many Pinot Noir producers are, in fact, intrigued by Syrah: with its broad style-spectrum, highly dependent on terroir, it is often referred to as the “Winemakers Grape,” highly mis-understood by consumers, but the passion of many a wine-producer. In this case, Paul Gordon has flipped that switch the other way — a passionate Rhône producer who’s taken on the “Winemaker’s Headache Grape.”
If a vineyard could “hide,” I believe it would do so in the tallest mountain tops in an over-looked AVA. Halcón Vineyards is located in the Mendocino appellation of Yorkville Highlands, overlooking the Anderson Valley at its 2,500-foot peak. It is, in fact, one of the highest vineyards in California. And while Mendocino, and certainly Anderson Valley, have a strong reputation for Pinot Noir production, due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the constantly cool temperatures, this high-altitude vineyard’s terroir is most reminiscent of France’s Northern Rhône region. And so it is that among the classic Rhône grapes Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache, that Halcón Vineyards grows exquisite Petite Sirah, producing one of the most refined wines of this varietal I’ve had.