When we want to get the inside scoop on Napa vineyard sites, our first call is to Chad Alexander. The former head winemaker at Robert Craig grew up in the valley and has been scouting vineyard sites ever since. When we asked him about Crane Brothers, of course, he knew the spot. "Special spot. Don't know the Crane wines but I know Robert Biale is really high on the vineyard. Cranes' grapes go into Biale's top Syrah bottling -- Rolly Akers." Then it all started to come together. It's tough to get your hands on Rolly Akers, but for California Syrah afficionados, Rolly Akers is mentioned in the same breath with Pax, Behrens and Hitchcock and Alban. This is rarefied air.
Here's why. Robert and Michael Crane's holding is planted on benchland and hillsides in the Oak Knoll District. But, what's really special at Crane is the extra TLC given to each vine, accounting for the magnificent richness and balance of the Syrah. Farmed to just 3 tons per acre, two green harvests (clipping off excess fruit to enhance concentration) are performed. Rigorous farming techniques allow for just two clusters per shoot -- only one for the younger vines. The spot is unusually cool, allowing for lots of hang time and a long growing season. The 2004 Syrah wasn't harvested until October! Chad told us something else. It seems Robert Biale isn't the only one to know about this special spot. The Cabernet grapes just south of Crane are snatched up every year by Caymus and Lewis at top prices.
Leaving nothing to chance, the Cranes sought out Biale master winemaker, Al Perry, to oversee the production of just 400 cases of Syrah. The micro-vinification is performed at Biale just a mile up the road from the vineyard. This is an impressive, complex Syrah showing lush black fruit and black pepper on the nose. Packed with black fruit and violets, give this one a little time to open up in the glass. Best will grilled steak or roasted lamb.