During the harvest of 2018 our intern was Christiaan Nigrini, a winemaker from South Africa. It’s a win/win situation for us both. I get help and for interns from the southern hemisphere it is their off season and they get harvest experience and see quite different conditions than they would otherwise. I make sure that they get to see all aspects of what we do here.
Despite the chaos of that harvest, Christiaan’s help with picking and processing enabled us to pick each area of the Estate vineyard at the perfect time. We ended up with 7 different lots just for Syrah, keeping each clone and soil type separate until formal evaluation in mid-May, some 7-8 months after harvest. This is a fun tasting, the wines are all tasted blind, of course, and I keep copious notes. Although the wines were impressive, there emerged 2 separate personalities. Some were a little more elegant and having freshness, a blend I initially called “Finesse” while the other was more dense and rich that called “Power”. Perhaps, if I may, one more European and one more Californian. The problem was, I didn’t know which one I preferred. It is a humbling experience to find that even though I have made the wines the same way, they have turned out to be so different, reminding me that I’m not in all that much control!
To preserve the wonderful fruit characters of the “Finesse” wines they were blended to a 500-gallon oak Foudre for another year of aging. This larger vessel with its thicker oak staves slows the aging process and preserves freshness. By the time it was ready for bottling it was an easy decision to bottle this wine with the Cuvée Ellen label, a tribute to my grandmother Ellen and made from fruit grown here in Glen Ellen. The first Ellen Syrah was made in 2007, also with more restrained Syrah components, and that blend continues to show well today. This is a lovely wine that can be enjoyed now but should continue to improve for another 5-8 years.
This wine is medium bodied, elegant and with lots of cherry fruit flavors and spice and will be at its best with food. I think this wine will improve for another 5-8 years but provides excellent drinking now.