Thomas Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyards in Ballard Canyon in 1990, but not until years later — in 2013 — was Ballard Canyon designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). Ballard Canyon is nestled within the greater Santa Ynez Valley AVA in Santa Barbara County, on California’s Central Coast, and it is an area that provides a particularly rare opportunity to grow grapes that have a constant feel for wind coming off of the Pacific Ocean. The AVA comprises 7,700 acres of planting area, with roughly 550 acres currently planted to vineyards. Growers in Ballard Canyon have settled on Syrah as the variety that thrives best in the area and over half of planted acreage is Syrah, with another 30% planted to other traditional Rhone varieties including Grenache, Viognier, and Roussanne. A unique feature of this AVA is the outcroppings of Limestone that imbue the grapes with a certain minerality not found in other parts of California.
Stolpman’s 2012 Ballard Canyon Syrah is a classic rendition of Central Coast Syrah. This is 100% Syrah, with notions of cherry, blackberry, cranberry, dried herbs, and sweet cured tobacco on the nose; and on the palate, suggestions of blackberry, lavender, dried herbs, and more tobacco — all finishing with accents of smoked meat and iron. Yes — there is certainly a solid core of earthy minerality in this wine, yet it its texture is silky smooth. The wine is medium-bodied, with moderate acidity, mild tannins, and subtle oak; it aged in 500 liter French oak puncheons, 15% new, for 11 months, and rested for another 10 months in large tanks. It will age well for another two to three years and will complement a variety of foods, including medium-to-sharp cheeses (blue cheese, in particular), charcuterie, and savory meat dishes. It is also rewarding on its own, especially after a brief decant. (Unfined, unfiltered | 14.1% ABV | 4,100 cases produced)
Availability: We found Stolpman’s 2012 Ballard Canyon Estate Syrah at Unwined in Alexandria, Virginia, and it can also be found at area Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market locations. For availability in your area, visit Stolpman Vineyards virtually at www.stolpmanvineyards.com to inquire. If you find yourself in Santa Barbara County, visit Stolpman’s tasting room in Los Olivos. For more information on the Ballard Canyon AVA, go to www.ballardcanyonava.com.
* Contributed by National Wine Review Tasting Panel Member Dan George.*