The Purisima Mountain Vineyard is a terroir where Syrah flourishes and develops a distinct character. Within these acres, we’ve found ways to accentuate the different aspects of our signature Syrah. Clone #1 Syrah is known to have a signature whiff of meaty smoke, and on top of the mountain, Block Six Syrah develops its characteristic limestone minerality. For Quarter 2 of 2022, we’re proud to present a new expression, Purisima Mountain Vineyard Own Syrah made from blocks of ungrafted vines. The results are powerful, structured, and just as memorable as our previous small-lot Syrah releases, which have become classics.
Grapevines are vulnerable to many illnesses, Vitis vinifera, the species that encompasses quality wine grape varieties, even more so. European in origin, vinifera vines were almost wiped out when they were unwittingly introduced to the American phylloxera louse. For this and many other reasons, grapevines are usually grafted onto rootstocks that are bred to be resistant to phylloxera bugs and some other pests and diseases.
Own-rooted vines require a year to two more to develop than a grafted vine. They are rooted in place, needing the first year or two to develop their rooting foundation. Once that is established, the vine can be trained, but during this tender period, the vine is fragile and vulnerable to burrowing nuisances, like gophers, and there is the constant threat of phyllorexa. It’s not enough to say that the decision to plant ungrafted vines isn’t made lightly. It’s hardly ever made at all. Purisima Mountain Syrah is different.
Syrah is a good grower. Syrah is a good rooter. Syrah is vigorous but not overly vigorous. Our process of planting own-rooted Syrah began gradually and cautiously. As we noticed that the ungrafted vines were growing without problems, and in fact thriving, we continued to add more in more rows and with more clones.
We take rootstock seriously. Our vineyard maps indicate which rootstock is used throughout our farms. The subtle difference in these can change the way that that the same grape clone communicates with the soil. Rootstocks can have various amounts of vigor. Own-rooted vines reflect the vigor of the variety. To help control the vigor of the own-rooted Syrah, we doubled the density in many of those blocks so the vines would regulate themselves through competition for resources.
We’re always seeking ways to make a more direct expression of the vineyard. Since rootstock is the conduit between the fruit and the soil, vines that grow their own roots are more connected to the land. Own-rooted vines are another effort in our mission to achieve a clearer translation of vineyard to wine. Our inaugural release of Purisima Mountain Vineyard Own Syrah comes from four different clones (Clone #1, Clone #383, Estrella, and BB) that were mostly planted from Purisima Mountain Vineyard cuttings.
There are basic advantages to own-rooted vines, in that you don’t have to buy grafted vines from a nursery and that our own-rooted Syrah vines seem to need less water. This cost-savings is considerable, but the risk of losing everything to a blight more than makes up for it. So why do we do it? The rewards of our risk are in the bottle. There is an unexpected depth and structure to these own-rooted wines. The wine explodes in the mid-palate and promises decades of evolution in the cellar. In fact, Steve says it’s his favorite Syrah of the 2020 vintage.
While this is our first release of Own Syrah, it’s not our first release of an own-rooted wine. Purisima Mountain Vineyard Viognier and Purisima Mountain Vineyard Block Eight Grenache are both made with ungrafted vines. Currently, about 22% of Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah is planted on own-rooted vines. Previously, this had been mostly blended into Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah. We anticipate Own becoming a favorite of our releases for as long as these vulnerable vines persist. Most members will be receiving this as a Quarter 2 release, but we think everyone that appreciates the joys of Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah will want to have a bottle for their “own” at some point.