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The Roots of our Newest Syrah

Posted: May 5, 2022

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. 

Beckmen pmv b4 syrah hill
Block Four, where our Own-Rooted Syrah grows.

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. 

Beckmen pmv b4 syrah grapevines V
These 12-15 year old own-rooted vines are slightly svelte.

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.

Beckmen pmv B8 spring
Head-trained, own-rooted Grenache vines on Block Eight.

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. 

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