“The Best Wines to Date from Stolpman”
Last August, Robert Parker’s longtime California reviewer, Jeb Dunnuck, called the 2016 Stolpman Estate Syrah, “ripe, sexy and polished,” and among “the best wines to date from Stolpman Vineyards.” It’s no surprise, given the talent behind this bottle. The tag team of vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano — Wine Enthusiast’s “grape whisperer” — consulting winemaker Sashi Moorman (Ojai, Domaine de la Cote, Evening Lands) and newly minted winemaker Kyle Knapp (Beckmen Vineyard alum) crafted a terrifically ripe, and beautifully compact expression of Syrah whose explosive fruit, seductive texture, and vibrant energy suggests a much higher price point. $30 from the winery, at $24.99 today from Wine Access — this is a stunning value.
Robert Parker’s longtime critic Jeb Dunnuck went on to call the 2016 Estate Syrah Ballard Canyon a “charmer to drink in its youth,” but also hailed its “terrific tannin quality,” suggesting a wealth of cellaring potential. But why is Stolpman producing their “best wines to date” as Dunnuck contends? “It’s a combination of three factors,” Pete Stolpman told me. “We’ve been on a roll since 2012, with our winegrowing, winemaking and climate.”
Pete’s winegrowing “grape whisperer” Ruben Solorzano has stuck to Stolpman’s strict farming principles — farming low-yield vines under little to no irrigation, which in drought years produces berries so small and concentrated, “you could cut them in half and watch concentrated beads of juice cling to the torn skins, rather than drip off.”
On the winemaking front, since 2012 all their Syrahs have been fermented in four-ton concrete tanks, which allows for healthy, gradual fermentations. In drought years, tannins are more pronounced, but in concrete, fermentation is gentle and occurs at consistent temperatures over longer periods of time. This mitigates tannin extraction, and since they only bottle “free run juice,” says Stolpman, the result is a brighter and more energetic wine, with ample body, unctuous and plush deep flavors, but teeming with freshness and verve for longer bottle life.
The period from 2012 to 2016 marks the start and end of one of the most harrowing drought years in California in many decades. In 2016, Stolpman’s Syrah berries were just exploding with flavor, delivering the kind of Holy Grail dark-berry concentration you’d expect from Hermitage — all thanks to Ballard Canyon, home to the best Rhône-styled wines in California. Solorzano harvests during Santa Barbara’s chilly nights, which helps the berries retain a scintillating acid vibrancy.
Lastly, any California winemaker will tell you that the defining event of the 2016 vintage was a severe heat spike in late September. Those who picked before were treated to BB-sized berries of exquisite brightness and a suave density guaranteeing excellent cellaring potential. Stolpman was among the early birds. The 2016 Stolpman Estate Syrah is a powerful yet nuanced expression of the Central Coast; and the critics are right — Stolpman is at the top of its Syrah game and it’s only going to get better.
Editor-in-Chief, Wine Access