A few years ago, we started hearing the "Renard hype." Then we tasted the wines and understood what all the fuss was about: Bayard Fox's ability to (viticultulturally speaking) transpose the entire Rhone Valley onto a map of California.
When we finally met Bayard, we asked him where he learned to make such incredible Syrah. First, he credited the winemakers at Chave, Voge, and Rostaing, from whom he learned about the variety. A year before he launched Renard, Bayard spent the winter with them. By spring, he knew he'd devote Renard to making Syrah. Bayard told us that he was drawn to Rhone-style wines, and Syrah in particular, because of their tremendous diversity. There is great Syrah in both the northern and the southern Rhone Valley, but these two climates can produce completely different, yet superb, wine from that one variety. Grown on the steep hillsides of the cooler north, the grape's pepper and red fruit really assert themselves, whereas in the warm south the bright sweet fruit and acidity come to the fore.
After an early exposure to winemaking in the southern Rhone Valley as a teenager, Bayard spent a number of post-collegiate years as a carpenter. His experience working with wood prepared him for his "day job" as a rep for a French cooperage firm, but it also laid the foundation for Bayard's winemaking philosophy. Eventually, he saw the two crafts as analogous: "With carpentry, there is both aesthetics and practicality. You need to make a space that's livable and attractive, and the same concept applies to wine. The aesthetic appeal is the aroma and flavor, but you also need texture, length of palate, and balance to compel you to finish the bottle. There has to be an 'inside' once you open the door."
Bayard seems to capture the Rhone by making tiny batches of single-vineyard wines from low-yielding parcels like Capelli Ranch in the Sierra Foothills. (His biggest cuvee is only 693 cases, and his smallest only 48.) Marco Cappelli was a long time winemaker in the Napa valley who elected to move to the Sierra Foothills to get away from it all and buy a prime vineyard site in Somerset. The vineyard sits on the end of a ridge line at about 3,300 feet elevation with well drained granitic soil reminiscent of the Northern Rhone. Needless to say, this produces a fine environment for Syrah. It likes the coolness of the elevation, the sparseness of the soil and the lovely view. In blind tastings people have assumed it is from the Cornas region of the Rhone, but without the inflated price! Indeed, with the exchange rate and the popularity of the Rhone, the Renard wines are a steal at basically half to a third of the price of the French counterparts. Furthermore, the wines have the restraint and sensibility of the French as well. The vineyard is fairly old and stressed, so the yield is quite small. Marco and Bayard partnered to make this small production, Marco providing the grapes and Bayard providing the winemaking. We trust you'll enjoy their combined efforts.