Tom Beckmen and his son, Steve, own one of the most unique parcels in California's Central Coast: Purisima Mountain Vineyard. This 365-acre hillside parcel overlooks the Santa Ynez Valley and sits on a bed of rocky limestone subsoil. Though common in the great Rhone regions Chateauneuf du Pape and Cote Rotie, limestone subsoil is extremely rare in California, which is exactly why the Beckmens chose the location for their vineyards back in the mid-1990s.
Referred to as "calcaire" by vignerons in the Rhone Valley, limestone is composed of calcium carbonate, a substance that is extremely difficult for roots to penetrate. The result is a less vigorous growing condition that produces smaller vines with naturally occurring low yields of intensely flavored fruit. In fact, the parcels that produced the Syrah in this wine netted only 2.7 tons per acre.
Steve is one of the most obsessive--and innovative--growers in Santa Barbara County. Before for he and his father planted Purisima Mountain, most of the region's vineyards were situated on level ground. That's because hillside farming is dauntingly expensive and difficult, a labor of love. Steve learned about the benefits of cultivating grapes on hills and mountainsides when he apprenticed in Europe with top growers like Paolo de Marchi of Isole e Olene. Working in Europe with historic old-vine plantings also gave Steve a deep appreciation for sustainable farming, a topic he warms to nearly every time we speak.
This particular Syrah is a blend of seven different clones from 60 different blocks that Steve chose to create multiple layers of flavor. The harvest took place throughout the month of October, with vineyard workers making multiple passes through each block picking only physiologically ripe berries.