2019 Irene Rodnick Farm Syrah
Region: Chalone < Monterey County < California
Grapes: 98% Syrah, 2% Viognier
Vineyard/Cellar Stats: Certified organic farming; volcanic soil over decomposed granite and limestone; 100% whole cluster fermentation, short maceratoin, then fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral oak; bottled unfined/unfiltered with <20ppm added so2; 12% ABV; 110 cases
Winemaker: Brian & Katelynn Jessen
Irene is a 6-year-old bootstrapped project from thirty-something couple Brian + Katelynn Jessen. Bryan, originally from Monterey County, studied wine business and viticulture/enology at Sonoma State at Santa Rose JC, then worked around Italy, New Zealand, and finally as cellar master at Copain before starting his own project with wife Katelynn. They both still have day jobs (he sells vine cuttings and rootstock to nurseries, she’s an artist), but their passion is Irene, their own label, named in honor of Brian’s mother, who passed away when he was young. Brian makes the wine at a custom crush facility in Healdsburg, and Katelynn paints the labels. Like most upstart Cali producers, they don’t own vineyards, so the biggest challenge is sourcing good, organic fruit.
But somehow they managed to pristine Syrah from the certified organic Rodnick Vineyard, a well-regarded highdesert growing site in Monterey County, with that glorious rocky, limestone soil. Here's what they say about the vineyard: "If you were to stumble upon Chalone by accident the last thing you would think to do is plant grapes. This entire area is parched high desert land that in some years has needed water to be trucked in to keep vines alive. Situated in the southern reaches of the Gabilan Mountains of Monterey County this vineyard borders the Pinnacles National Park. The entire area is rocky to say the least; limestone and granite emerge out of the soil in every other vine row you walk. This is what brought us to this site.
The Syrah is an old Joseph Phelps clone grafted by Richard Graff himself. Fermented with 2% Viognier and 100% whole cluster, this wine is as structured as the site it came from. Dark fruit and dusty tannins with an energetic nerve that can only come from limestone."
As with all of their wines, they pick and bottle earlier for this wine, to maintain freshness and keep things light, while showcasing the incredible rocky volcanic terroir. And they nailed it with this gorgeous, structured Syrah that drinks more Côte-Rôtie than Cali. Clean, light and bright, this baby tastes of wet earth, vibrant red fruit and baking spice, then opens up to reveal more violet, floral notes. She drinks beautifully now but has the legs to age, if you have that kind of discipline.