Wine Enthusiast Podcast: California Cool-Climate Syrah
by: Wine Enthusiast
If you consider classic Old-World wine regions to be the only homes to cool-climate Syrah, it may be time to think again. From original Rhône Rangers to modern-day renegades, there’s so much deliciousness to discover when it comes to the world of American cool-climate Syrah.
California’s Central Coast boasts plenty of ideal spots that offer tempered climactic conditions to yield nuanced and well-balanced cool-climate expressions of the classic Rhône variety. To explore some of the region’s most exemplary Syrah sites and bottlings, Contributing Editor Matt Kettmann speaks with winemakers Bob Lindquist of Lindquist Family Wines and Nicole Pope of Stolo Family Vineyards, both of whom have some serious street cred in producing expressive, spicy, vibrant and layered expressions of the grape from California’s Central Coast.
From early adapters to newer champions who are driving the variety’s success and pushing the boundaries of expectation, they cover what bottles to seek to taste the best the variety has to offer from California’s cool-climate sites.
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Speakers: Lauren Buzzeo, Matt Kettmann, Bob Lindquist, Nicole Pope
Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the managing editor here at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, we dive into the topic of cool-climate Syrah. If you think the Old World is the only home for such cool-climate treasures, Contributing Editor Matt Kettmann is ready to change your mind. Along with winemakers Bob Lindquist and Nicole Pope, both of whom have some serious street cred in producing expressive, spicy, vibrant and layered expressions of the grape from California’s Central Coast, we explore some of the state’s most exemplary Syrah sites and bottlings, from early adopters to newer champions who are driving the variety success and pushing the boundaries of expectation.
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Matt Kettmann 2:01
I’ve long been a fan of cool-climate Syrah. It was about 15 or so years ago when I was at Foley Estates, in the Santa Rita Hills, where they make mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But they had the Syrah on the menu and I and I read the tasting note and it said, cracked black pepper and gamey notes. And it was the first one that I really ever tasted where I agreed with what the tasting note had said. There was an obvious, spicy, peppery tone to it and these kind of more gamey notes that really were fascinating to me.
Soon after that I learned a lot more about Syrah on the Central Coast and I learned that someone that was a winemaker in Santa Barbara County, Bob Lindquist, who had founded Qupé winery back in the early 80s, he was the pioneer of the style. So we have Bob on the show today to talk about some of his early days and what he’s up to now. And then another wine that I that I’ve come to love—every vintage is one of the most exciting boxes I get to open each year—is Stolo winery and vineyards, which is a property located behind the town of Cambria, just a few miles from the San Luis Obispo Coast. And its winemaker, Nicole Bertotti Pope joins us today as well. And those wines are always extremely gamey, very spicy, and really show that, you know, wine, Syrah particularly, isn’t all about just fruit and flowers that it can be about, you know, something that really is unique and really, I think, special and these flavors and that style really goes back to the Côte Rotie in the northern Rhône, which is the ancestral home of Syrah. And so we have two winemakers on the show today that are really kind of the the pioneers and the next wave of people that are pushing that style in, I think, a really exciting and eye opening way. So without further ado, let’s welcome Bob Lindquist to the show. How are you doing, Bob?
Bob Lindquist 3:51
I’m doing well, thank you, Matt.
Matt Kettmann 3:52
So take us back to, I mean, you can tell us a little about the early part of your career. And then when you decided to launch your former winery Qupé and why you Syrah was something you you settled on early on.
Bob Lindquist 4:08
Yeah, it goes back to the late 70s, early 80s when I worked at Zaca Mesa Winery, which is one of the pioneering wineries in Santa Barbara County. And we had planted Petit Syrah at Zaca Mesa to use as a blending varietal for this red blend that Zaca Mesa was was trying to launch called Play On Noir. And we had a group of kind of youngish or young winemakers there who often got together and tasted European wines to kind of, you know, see what the benchmarks are, that sort of thing. And we started doing quite a few Rhone varietal tastings, and in particular northern Rhone and Syrah and we quickly determined that Petit Syrah was the wrong thing to have planted and then we should have planted Syrah instead. So we contacted Gary Eberle at Estrella River Vineyard who had planted some true varietal Syrah at the Estrella River in Paso Robles and got budwood from him and grafted over to that Petit Syrah vineyard, which became the what Zaca Mesa called the Black Bear block. It was the original Syrah planting at Zaka Mesa.
Matt Kettmann 5:25
Those gaps are still going, I still get to try that black bear block from Zaca Mesa every year.
Bob Lindquist 5:30
Exactly. Those would be 40 some-odd years old now. Anyway, so fast forward a couple years, 1982, I started my own winery called Qupé. And I wanted to focus on Rhone varietals and also Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. The only Syrah available to me was from that Australia river vineyard in Paso Robles. So I bought grapes from Estrella River, brought it down to Zaca Mesa, which is I was still employed made my first Qupé wines there. And I did that for a few years. And every year, I had had to add acid to the Syrah from Paso Robles, which indicated to me that was probably a warmer area that in Syrah really thrived in. So in 1985, by chance, I met Bob Miller, one of the brothers who have planted the bee in the fetal vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, at a tasting and Bob struck up a conversation about Syrah said we’re interested in in grafting over some of the Bien Nacido vineyard to Syrah. Would you be interested in buying the grapes from us if we did that? And I said, well, frankly, Bob, I think your site is probably too cool for Syrah. And he said, Well, we have Cabernet and Merlot planted there, and they ripen every year. And I said, but have you tasted them? Because they were not very good wines. But in fact, they had gotten ripe. But I think you know, that with Cabernet, it requires a different kind of climate than Syrah requires to ripen properly. So anyway, so I met with Bob Miller first and then met with his vineyard manager a couple weeks later, and we kind of toured around Bien Nacido vineyard to look at different blocks that could potentially be planted or grafted to Syrah. And we settled on what was the going to be the warmest kind of section of the in the phaedo, which was a block that they had planted originally to Riesling on its own roots. And that was grafted over in 1986, we got the first crop in 1987 and that’s what’s called the X-Block like x-ray. And in fact, the wine that they sent you is from that original block at Bien Nacido. So that’s how it started with me.
I mean, you guys are to some extent, kind of flying blind, right? I mean, you’re there’s not a lot of Syrah or any Syrah at that point really planted in California in cooler climates. So you were really just kind of testing the extremes at that time, essentially, right?
That was the first cool climate Syrah planted in California and maybe even in the in the New World that I that I know of. And, you know, certainly a lot quickly followed that. But as far as I know, that was the first planting of cool climate Syrah in California.
Matt Kettmann 8:33
And was it immediately popular? I mean, this was an era when Pinot Noir had not taken over California much like it has these days at least the Central Coast was was to rob was that style of Syrah, pretty well accepted and exciting for the market at that time.
Bob Lindquist 8:49
It was but I would say in a limited way, you know, it didn’t make very much of it to begin with. And and I already had established a market for Qupé Syrah and the grapes that I’d been buying from Paso Robles. So I already had, you know, a small following for Syrah in the marketplace. And when I released the first Bien Nacido Syrah, we only had four barrels of it—100 cases. And it sold out right away and everybody loved the wine and it got, you know, good press notices and that sort of thing. So, you know, right from the get go it kind of took off.
How different was it than the Estrella River stuff you were making?
Well, it didn’t need acidity, which was the the big indicator. And it ripened about six weeks later, maybe sometimes even eight weeks, six to eight weeks later than the fruit that I was getting from from the Estrella river vineyard. So that’s, you know, that’s pretty considerable. The fact that the pH was lower, the acid was higher, and it had longer hang time on the vine to develop sugar. It is all, you know, it was hitting all the right Notice as far as what it should be doing for quality.
Matt Kettmann 10:04
So when did you wean off of the Paso Robles fruit?
Bob Lindquist 10:09
Well, I kept buying Paso Robles fruit because I made not only Bien Nacido vineyard Syrah but I also made a Central Coast bottling, which was a blend Paso Robles fruit with cool climate, Santa Barbara fruit. I continued doing that, you know, up until—in fact I still do that, but under my new Lindquist label, I still make a Central Coast bottling. Although the current Central Coast bottling under the Lindquist label is only cool climate fruits, if you include Santa Inez Valley as cool climate, which actually it’s pretty warm and Santa Inez Valley. But I continue to make that blended bottling so that’s where the Paso Robles fruit comes in.
Matt Kettmann 10:54
Great. Well, I’d like to talk about the market for Syrah over the years and how that’s been a source of, I think, frustration for a lot of people and hopefully that’s maybe changing finally. But before we do that, let’s let’s hear from Nicole Bertotti Pope who is the winemaker at Stolo vineyards, which is right behind Cambria. Really beautiful spread, even during Covid times it’s a very nice place to go. I was there a couple months ago and actually, I’ll be there this coming weekend. I think we’ll probably have time to stop by and say hi, Nicole, but I haven’t quite figured that out yet. We have a kind of packed schedule.
But anyway, Nicole, welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into winemaking. And then we can kind of dial in on while you’re making some of the most interesting Syrah on the planet these days.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 11:41
Thanks, Matt. Thanks for having me on the show and for the compliments. You should definitely come visit this weekend, if you can. We’re actually picking our Syrah on Friday so we’ll have it in the house and not fermenting yet, but there’s a lot going on at the winery right now so it’s good time to visit.
So, I went to Cal Poly and I actually studied biology and kind of got into wine, just through all the wines here on the Central Coast and I had friends working at Central Coast wines. And, you know, that got me tasting lots of different wines that normally a college student wouldn’t have access to. So that was kind of the beginning of veering me away from kind of the broad biology major towards winemaking. I took a few classes, but I kept with the major because the enology major had really just started at Cal Poly. I don’t even think it was official until my last year. So I graduated and post graduation, I ended up doing a harvest in Australia with my husband, or then boyfriend. And when I came back from that I was hooked and got a lab tech job up in Napa at Domaine Carneros. That was meant to be a harvest position, but I ended up staying full time there for three or four years and became the enologist, kind of assistant winemaker, lab manager there. And so I started kind of with cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, sparkling wine, but we didn’t make any Syrah. It wasn’t until I came back down to the Central Coast and started working at Talley Vineyards that we were making a little bit of Syrah for the Talley label. And it was one of my favorite things to make there. I think, you know, being right next door to Alban Vineyards and then, you know, the Sawyer Lindquist vineyard that was there as well. Those were all great Syrahs coming from that area. And once they built the winery at Stolo, I came came there in—let’s see 2011 was when I was hired. But the winery was finished being built in 2012. We were living on the property.
It’s in Cambria, just just inland from town, about two miles inland from town, about three miles from the coast. And my husband was managing the vineyard there. And at the time, there were nine acres planted that were original, planted in 1998. And I guess the previous owner, not the Stolo family, but the previous owner had had those vineyards planted and, I think, what I’ve heard is that John Alban was a consultant at that point. And so he had planted a block of Syrah in there and I think he had bought there, and the clone there is Cote Rotie. So I’m guessing cuttings from someone that came from Cote Rotie. I don’t know too much more of the history on that block. But before I even started making the wine, when I first started tasting some of the previous wines that were made there, the Syrah definitely stuck out to me and I was excited to be working with that fruit. And then we were having the opportunity to plant more of that property. So they had about 15 more acres that needed to be planted. And my husband and I were able to help them decide what to plant. So we added more Syrah in some of the new blocks with three different clones, to see how those, you know, would compare to that older hillside block. And from there, that’s kind of where I got into really getting my hands in to making cool climate Syrah and really just learning by doing, I guess. Learning by working with the different vintages and just those different blocks. We don’t buy any fruit, so I, you know, don’t have that much different experience besides what I’ve done at Stolo, and then the little bit that we were doing a Talley, but I love it. And it’s definitely the most interesting wine for me to drink and really fun to make, to smell fermenting. And yeah, I just love the way those wines change in the glass and from Cote Rotie, from Sonoma Coast, from Santa Barbara County. The cool climate iterations of Syrah just continue to be really interesting to me.
Matt Kettmann 16:33
Is there anything as a winemaker you do to emphasize that? Or do those grapes just come in like that and that’s what they’re gonna be? Is there is there much in the cellar you’re doing to to enhance the cool climate-ness or really, it is a site specific expression of Syrah that way?
Nicole Bertotti Pope 16:55
I think it is definitely very heavily site specific. I don’t think there’s something I could do to Syrah from a warmer climate or from a different vineyard to make it more cool climate. I think, you know, I’ve tested all different ways of different amounts of whole cluster. I mean, every year I’m doing, you know, some 100% whole cluster, some 30% whole cluster. I don’t think I’m doing any, that’s completely destemmed anymore. But I used to do some destemmed just to see how all of them would show in barrel and see what was the best way for these different blocks. And so I think they all show a cool climate aromatics and flavors. I think the whole cluster to me adds some interesting spice and freshness, and I really like what a certain amount of whole cluster will do depending on vintages. But I don’t think you could pick earlier to make something tastes like a cool climate Syrah. I think it really is that long ripening season that you get. And we just don’t get very high temperatures generally. So I mean, it’s a very long growing season. From budbreak all the way to veraison, it’s just all spread. I mean, this is actually kind of early for us this year, in the middle of October. I mean, we’re a lot of times into November. And really it’s just getting close to the end of the season and we’re ready to pick them depending on storms and stuff, too. But that’s why we’re kind of on that extreme edge of growing Syrah I think.
Matt Kettmann 18:40
Bob, you hear about whole cluster a lot when it comes to—well, a lot of different grapes these days—but especially with Syrah. Was whole cluster something you were doing in the early days when you when you were exploring the kind of cool climate that Bien Nacido Vineyard was giving you?
Bob Lindquist 18:54
It was, in fact. I even did whole cluster with the grapes that I bought from Estrella River Vineyard, which was probably not the best choice. But the first wine that I made from that—actually the first two that I made from that vineyard—turned out really nice and, even though they weren’t running cool climate, they had characteristics that reminded me of Northern Rhone wines based on the stem character that we were getting from whole cluster fermentation. The marketplace at that time didn’t embrace whole cluster as much as I did. I had some customers who who thought it was a little too green or a little too, you know, spicy and they wanted more fruit. So in 1984, which was a warmer vintage than 82 or 83, I backed off on the amount of whole cluster I used and ever since then I’ve kind of played it by ear, you know, with the amount that I use. But from cool climate I tend to use either, you know, always use some whole cluster and as much as 100%, certainly from the Bien Nacido X-Block I generally use 100% whole cluster. It, as Nicole said, it definitely adds complexity and adds freshness. And it adds longevity to the wines as well. I find that it really helps with the ageability of the wine.
Matt Kettmann 20:23
Let’s talk a little bit about the science behind this. I mean, it’s not just that we are, you know, sensory wise tasting, smelling these aromas and flavors, but there’s actually some science going on, right? I mean, Nicole, if you want to talk about this, we’ve talked about this before, but tell me about what you’ve learned about the flavors and aromas that you get in cold climate Syrah and how they do actually relate to black pepper.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 20:50
Yeah, so a lot, I mean, wines have compounds called terpenes, monoterpenes. You can get different to all different types of terpenes. You get some floral characters in wines, like Muscat and Gewurstraminer, like rose petal. When I did more research on Syrah, there’s a terpene that is responsible for that pepper flavor and it’s called rotundone. I was just researching this after years of making Syrah, it’s not like I knew this before going into it. It’s just the curiosity of that black pepper and doing some sensory classes where you they’re actually telling you the names of the compounds that are responsible for these flavors and aromas. Like you had said when you saw the tasting note black pepper, and you just think oh, people are kind of making this up. But then it actually triggers and you’re like that tastes like black pepper. So rotundone is actually a terpene that’s found in Syrah that’s also a compound in black peppercorn. It’s in a few other grapes, I think Mouvedre and Gruner Veltliner has some rotundone I think as well. But it’s in the skins of Syrah and what I learned was that this compound as, I think, it’s more pronounced in cool climate Syrah because it increases as it ripens. So I think if you’re having a really long growing season, which a cool climate Syrah has to have a long growing season in order to ripen, then it’s accumulating even more in the skins. I think the climate, the lack of heat just makes the amount of that terpene higher. So it’s interesting in Syrah, you will find that. What I also learned was that once you bottle it and you have that terpene rotundone, it doesn’t go away. So as you’ll have fruit that will diminish with age, but this pepperiness it’s scientifically gonna stay in the wine. And it starts in the grape and I think with fermentation you can lose whatever you’re going to lose or gain—well, you’re not going to gain it. But once it’s in bottle, it’s really there. And so it’s really interesting because there’s not a lot in the winemaking is what I’m reading, it’s more what’s in the actual grape and where it’s grown in the vineyard and the viticultural side of it that’s enhancing that terpene. So that’s kind of a little science behind the cool climate aromas of that. But I think there’s a lot of different terpenes so you can also get these like smoked meat characteristics, all these different flavor compounds basically.
Matt Kettmann 23:56
What you’re saying is if they’re only going to get more peppery with time which is which is great if you’re into that pepper.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 24:01
Matt Kettmann 24:02
I also heard about one of the main compounds they test for in smoke taint, which is obviously a big topic this year. But is also something that’s that shows up in Syrah naturally so it can kind of mess with your test if you if you’re testing Syrah for smoke. Have you heard that? The guaiacol or something like that?
Nicole Bertotti Pope 24:22
Yeah, I have heard that and I actually, we sent a few samples of Pinot in just to check for smoke taint because we were having some smoke coming down from the Big Sur fires and I didn’t even send in Syrah because I heard that it was pointless to send it in because it’ll probably show it no matter what, even if it’s not from smoke. It’s just that it’s hard to decipher. You know, that’s just natural.
Matt Kettmann 24:47
So Bob, you’ve been making Syrah for 40 years and cool climate Syrah for almost as long. How has the world come around to, well, Syrah in general, New World Syrah. And then what about cool climate Syrah? I know, Syrah has had kind of its ups and downs. Is there a groundswell of support for cool climate Syrah? Is that something you’re starting to see? Does it ever wax and wane or what is your, you know, multi-decade perspective on the on the market for Syrah?
Bob Lindquist 25:21
I actually think cool climate Syrah is too exotic for kind of the layman palate. Casual wine drinkers, I think, prefer something with a little bit more fruit and maybe a little bit softer edge to it. But, you know, certainly enthusiasts, sommeliers, you know, people with people who are into wine, people who drink a lot of wine and taste a lot of wines, and taste a lot of wines from around the world, I think really appreciate great Syrah like Cote Rotie, or Hermitage, or cool climate Syrah from California. So the market is there, but I think it’s a limited market. And that’s what I find, you know, in taking the wines out to sell.
Matt Kettmann 26:11
I’ve always found it to be, while it’s one of my favorite styles of wine, if not my favorite style of wine, it can be quite divisive at parties. You know, you take them out, and half the party goes, “That’s amazing” and the other half goes, you know, “there’s something wrong with that bottle.”
Bob Lindquist 26:28
Matt Kettmann 26:31
Nicole, have you had to do much education in that realm when when people are coming to your tasting room and wanting to try this stuff out? Does everyone get it or is it a specialized palate?
Nicole Bertotti Pope 26:43
I think yeah, it is very divisive. I think Bob hit it with the, you know, the sommeliers love it, the wine industry, other winemakers tend to love it. And it is kind of the average consumer wants a big, fruity red wine, or they prefer it and they don’t really sometimes know what to do with all that pepper and spice and kind of the subtleties of it. And how Syrah, especially cool climate Syrah, one of my favorite things is just how it changes in the glass and keep coming back to it and smelling different different aromas and characteristics. So yeah, I think it’s definitely, some people are turned off by like, why would you have smoked meat smell your wine? Why would you want, you know, hotdog salami. It’s like too much, you know. But I love it. It’s definitely one of my favorites.
Matt Kettmann 27:39
Are there any particular challenges that the cool climate Syrah presents in the vineyard or the cellar? And either of you can can take this question.
Bob Lindquist 27:50
Well, you know, we’re lucky here on the Central Coast that we don’t get a lot of rain in the in the later part of the growing season. In fact, we, we rarely get rain in September, October or even into early November. So that gives us an advantage to ripen a grape like Syrah in cool climate. You know, in the north coast, where they have planted Syrah and cool climate areas, it’s a lot riskier, because they do get rained in September, October and into November. So I think that’s our biggest advantage to growing Syrah in cool climate here is the long growing season that we have and the fact that the climate is dry.
Matt Kettmann 28:34
How about, Nicole, in the cellar—anything in particular that’s more challenging about Syrah than some of the other grapes you work with, or is it or is it an easier one to work with?
Nicole Bertotti Pope 28:44
I think it’s easier than Pinot Noir in the cellar as far as how it can be handled. But I think in fermentation, one of the things that can come up is that you can get a lot of reduction if you’re not giving it a lot of air when it’s fermenting. We do native yeast fermentation, but it can still kind of rip through fermentation and if you’re not punching that down, giving it some area to pump overs, you can get some funk coming through. So I’d say that getting good oxygen through fermentation is important. Other than that, it feels like it’s pretty easy to manage. For us growing up there’s a little bit harder than the winemaking side just because it’s a little cooler. So we’re kind of on the edge of sometimes getting ripe. And sometimes we do get that first rain event right around Halloween when most people have all their fruit in and sometimes we’re still ticking away with the Syrah. And we’ve had to bring it in a couple years where it was pretty low brix. It still turned out to be really good wine, so I would say that’s kind of the climate’s limiting factor. We have to make sure, especially because Syrah can be very high yielding and vigorous in certain sites, so our hillside site, we don’t have a problem with vigor, but in we have another site that has a little more vigor, a little bit more clay soil that if you let too much fruit on the vine, you know, we have to drop fruit because if you have too much fruit hang on the vine, then we really aren’t going to get it ripe or have the complexity that you want to. So I think with Syrah looking at vigor is important in growing and then hopefully having that long growing season that we will love in California.
Bob Lindquist 30:33
I was gonna ask Nicole a question about Syrah growing it where you’re growing it. Do you ever have dormancy issues there because you are so close to the ocean.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 30:44
It goes dormant every year, but we’ve had times where it kind of wakes up a little too early, where you start seeing it wake up. Then usually we do get frosts and sometimes and especially in some of our lower blocks. So it’s maybe once every five or six years where, you know, it stays warm in December in January where we’re starting to see some buds early. But then usually we’ll get hit with a frost in at least an end of January, February, that shuts it down again. So we haven’t had too bad of a problem with it.
Matt Kettmann 31:19
Because you guys are close to the coast, but you are tucked in kind of a canyon behind a canyon almost.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 31:25
Matt Kettmann 31:26
And then down by the creek. So you get those low cold air settling there.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 31:31
Yeah, those newer blocks, especially, they can get pretty cold during the winter. But in general we don’t have as much of a change in temperature throughout the year.
Matt Kettmann 31:42
Bob, I was gonna ask you, you know, over over all the vintages you’ve seen, were there any real standout vintages from your experience and/or what’s your drinking window on these wines? When do you recommend people open them up?
Bob Lindquist 32:03
Well, interestingly enough, that’s a good question. My favorite vintages have been our coolest vintages. So we’re already growing grapes in cool climate, but the cooler vintages as long as we get, you know proper ripening, which we managed to do every year, I think have the best balance, the best structure, they have a little bit lower alcohol and they age better. So going back to like 89 was an outstanding vintage, 98, 99, 01, those were all cool vintages and those wines are still drinking well today. So the drinking window on them is, especially from those cooler vintages, is, you know, 20, 30 years as long as it’s properly cellared.
Matt Kettmann 32:56
Any you must have had the opportunity to take these wines to France and show them to people in Cote Rotie. I mean, what is their general reaction, are they pretty surprised at what we can do out here?
Bob Lindquist 33:10
They are. I think they’re they’re a little bit jealous. We have this wonderful event, you know, hospice drone that used to take place every year then went to an every other year format. And it was postponed this year because of COVID but that’s been a great opportunity to exchange information and taste wines from other parts of the world and have winemakers from other parts of the world come here and taste our wines as well. But yes, I have taken them to to the Northern Rhone and to France and shared them with winemakers there as well. They’re always nicely surprised I think.
Matt Kettmann 33:55
And then Bob give us give us an update on your current brands and that sort of thing. You were with Qupé for many decades and then recently left that brand. What are you what are you up to now?
Bob Lindquist 34:09
So I started a new brand using my last name Lindquist, the Lindquist Family Wines and and basically what I did, Qupé had grown to a pretty good size, about 35,000 cases annual production. Two years ago it was sold to a larger wine company. And I didn’t fit with the sale. I didn’t want to be part of this larger wine company. So I decided to kind of start over. Two years ago I was 65 years old, so starting over at that age was a little bit challenging. But I love what I do. And I have a shared winemaking facility with Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat that we’ve had now for a little over 30 years. So I already had the the infrastructure and the place to make the wine and I kind of went back to my roots, just making small amounts of cool climate Syrah and a Central Coast Syrah blend, as well as a couple other Rhone varietals. And to help pay the bills, just like when I started Qupé in 1982, I make Santa Barbara County Bien Nacido vineyard Chardonnay, which I love making as well.
Matt Kettmann 35:22
And you recently sent me some of your wines. You have a Char-Viognier, too?
Bob Lindquist 35:28
Yeah, which is another wine that I used to make under the Qupé label, which we had kind of put on the backburner. I had partnered with this company called Terroir Selections seven years ago, which actually did not go well. That’s a different story. But that company, they have a sales and marketing company and they wanted to kind of cut down the number of wines that we sold nationally, and that was one of the ones that they decided to cut out. And I loved that wine. I loved the way that Viognier and Chardonnay can play with each other. I picked the Viognier ultra right, where by itself, it’d be out of balance, too high and alcohol too low in acid. But it’s those kind of overripe levels, Viognier is super aromatic. And then I blend it with Chardonnay that’s picked up the low end of ripeness and usually it’s a 50-50 blend. That kind of reined it back in and gives it the structure and acidity and freshness that the wine needs. It’s just a really fun white wine blend.
Matt Kettmann 36:40
And you and your wife, you still make wines from the Sawyer Lindquist vineyard, which is also known as Slide Hill. But you guys were able to make wines from that vineyard and maintain that name. So what do you what do you guys make from there?
Bob Lindquist 36:53
So my wife, Louise is a wine maker as well. And she makes Albariño and Tempranillo from that vineyard. That’s kind of her focus or the Iberian varietals. And then I make Syrah, Marsanne, Grenache. And then together we make a small amount of Pinot Noir from that vineyard as well.
Matt Kettmann 37:12
And do you put that Syrah under the Sawyer Lindquist was label or do you put it under your Lindquist Family label?
Bob Lindquist 37:18
The Syrah would be under the Lindquist label. So the first wine under the Lindquist label from that vineyard will be the 2019 vintage, which is in barrel right now. And then then I also have two single vineyard Syrahs from the Bien Nacido vineyard from two different blocks from the older X-Block and also from the newer V-Block, which is actually not that new anymore. That was a block that was planted in the early 90s.
Matt Kettmann 37:45
Well, I want to get your take on the future of Syrah, but let’s go to Nicole again and Nicole tell us a little bit more of the rounded story of Stolo. What else are you guys making there? Because you have quite a large menu as well.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 38:00
So everything we make there we grow on the estate. It’s 23 acres planted. And we do a few aromatic whites, we do a dry Gewurstraminer. We do a Sauvignon Blanc, a very cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, a rose of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. That’s what we have planted and it’s kind of a range of wines, but it kind of ends up leaning kind of heavily on the white sometimes. But I love the freshness of growing those whites and the cool climate as well. And then Chardonnay and Pinot, of course, do really well in that climate and and then the Syrah is kind of our outlier, just really unique, really shows the place.
Matt Kettmann 38:47
Bob, what’s your what’s your tasting situation? How can people come enjoy your wines?
Bob Lindquist 38:53
We have a tasting room in what’s called the Village of Arroyo Grande and it’s open every day. It’s just that, you know, it’s not at the winery. The winery is located at Bien Nacido vineyard and from the very beginning Jim and I had an agreement that we weren’t going to have a tasting room there at the winery itself. So we have a kind of off-site tasting room in a cute little town of Arroyo Grande and that’s where you can taste both the Lindquist Family wines and also my wife’s Verdad wines.
Matt Kettmann 39:29
Has business can pretty, you know, relatively steady all things considered?
Bob Lindquist 39:35
Yeah, it has been. People have been continuing to drink wine and our visitor count you know is down, but I think the people who come—and we also can’t fit as many people. We can’t have as many people tasting at one time because the tables are, you know, physically distanced, but the people that do come tend to be the people People who really want to be there and are interested in the wines and want to buy the wines.
Matt Kettmann 40:06
Right. So, Nicole, what do you, you know, Stolo is betting on Syrah, and, obviously, you have other wines too, but this is something where you guys have definitely, you’re betting on it as a grape that people are going to be into. I’m doing what I can to promote cool climate Syrah at almost every turn.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 40:28
You’re doing a good job.
Matt Kettmann 40:30
Thank you. But, Nicole, what are your thoughts on the future of this style? Do you think as consumers get more and more educated, and just people get more and more familiar and interested with trying different types of wine, do you see an upside to the cool climate Syrah story? Or is it just going to stay steady like it has for Bob’s entire career almost?
Nicole Bertotti Pope 40:56
I think there’s an upside. I think that as consumers get more educated, and as kind of our younger wine drinkers are—it seems like these younger generations are drinking wine and they seem interested in learning about how things taste, and why they taste the way they do. And instead of just, you know, they’re not drinking the same bottle of wine every night, they’re not just going to the grocery store, and usually getting that same wine, like, you know, some of our parents did in the past. So I could see, I don’t know, I think that the wines are so interesting. And with, you know, the different media that comes out and promotes this style, and isn’t just leaning so heavily towards promoting the big, ripe, heavy styles of red wines, that it definitely helps the cause. So you I mean, you’ve been a promoter I love on both sides, where you, you know, you love the big Paso red wines, but you also give credit and a lot of send a lot of love to the cool coastal wines that we make on the Central Coast. So I think the more that people taste and learn about those wines, I think the more they’re going to get hooked, because once you’re hooked on cool climate Syrah, it’s hard to go away from that. You just want to try more of them and see, you know, see how different people are making it and how it shows itself from different vineyards, either along the coast, or in more northern regions, you know, from Oregon, from wherever it’s kind of, it’s just really cool to see what’s coming out with Syrah. Most of it is all small production, it’s fun, because the small production Syrah is really where you see kind of the fun stuff. You’re not going to see cool climate Syrah as a huge kind of a large wine label. I don’t know if it’s like cost effective for for those brands be growing Syrah on the coast and making something like that for the general public. So it’s kind of a cool, niche thing.
Matt Kettmann 43:11
Right. Bob, do you have any more thoughts to add to that? I mean, you’ve been doing this your whole career and leading so many people like Nicole and into making cool climate Syrah. Is there hope for you? I mean, you’ve watched the Syrah market kind of take off and go down and take off and go down. And there’s been the confusion that was introduced by the really big Shirazes out of Australia. And there’s a kind of I think there’s a lot of market confusion out there, just like what is a Syrah supposed to taste like and here we are promoting like both the kind of ancestral flavors, but also some of the more extreme flavors of Syrah. And then there’s all the other Syrahs out there that are big and bold and fruity, and they can be quite delicious, too, but it’s a completely different thing. I mean, do you see with education, more consumers tuning into your style of Syrah?
Bob Lindquist 44:03
Yeah, no, absolutely. You know, people’s taste evolves. And I think people who are into wine, you know, they do want to try new things and try different flavors. And I also find that as people’s tastes evolve, and I know my taste, the way they’ve evolved, is I tend to appreciate more and more subtlety in wine, freshness in wine, balance in wine. Where when I was a younger wine drinker, I appreciated more power and kind of heaviness and richness in wines. And so I think, you know, as people’s taste evolves, the market for a cool climate Syrah increases. And more and more people are drinking wine all the time, so there’s more and more customers to try the wines as their taste evolves.
Matt Kettmann 44:55
So what’s your go to pairing? Do you just buy yourself a big bottle of Lindquist Family X-Block and what should I be buying to eat with that at the store?
Bob Lindquist 45:07
Well today I would recommend Dodger Dogs.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 45:16
Matt Kettmann 45:16
Nicole Bertotti Pope 45:17
I’m a Giants fan.
Bob Lindquist 45:20
So is my wife. And actually you guys have bragging rights, you know, we haven’t won a championship in quite a long time, but anyways I’m a huge Dodgers fan always have been, so the World Series starts today in case any of you out there don’t know that.
Matt Kettmann 45:37
it does seem to possibly be their year. We’ll see.
Bob Lindquist 45:42
I think so. But to answer your question in a more serious way, I think that anything grilled, including Dodger Dogs, which are all always better grilled than steamed, go went really well with cool climate Syrah or Syrah in general. But there’s something about the smokiness that you get from grilled meats or you know grilled vegetables just pair really nicely with with the Syrah.
Matt Kettmann 46:13
Nicole, same for you. Do you have any go-to dishes when it comes to pairing Stolo Syrah with some food?
Nicole Bertotti Pope 46:21
Yeah, I agree with the barbecued meats—lamb, we have a lot of lamb. My husband hunts so we have venison and wild boar and all those really gamey meats pair well with the gamey flavors that you get from Syrah, from cool climates Syrah. The smokiness, and I love you know with Syrah, because it they are a little bit lighter, that they just pair better with a lot of foods. With fish, with everything because it’s not so high octane alcohol and it kind of can mesh with Pinots and Syrah and how they just can kind of flow with anything that you’re eating, I think.
Matt Kettmann 47:04
All right, anything else you guys? Go ahead, Bob.
Bob Lindquist 47:07
Yeah, I was just gonna add one more food thought. A number of years ago I was paired up at a wine event with the Hitching Post Restaurant and Frank grilled ahi tuna that he had coated in black pepper, you know, kind of like steak au poivre but you’re doing it with with ahi tuna instead. And that was a wonderful match. You know, when Nicole mentioned that cool climate Syrah or spicy Syrah can go well with seafood, that’s what came to mind and I wanted to mention that.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 47:41
Oh, that’s a great pairing.
Matt Kettmann 47:43
It sounds delicious. Ahi kind of has, like for all fish, can also have kind of a gamey note to it as well. So great.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 47:52
I love your new label. I hadn’t seen the Lindquist label, it looks great.
Bob Lindquist 48:00
Well, you know, I opened all the wine thinking that we might be tasting them during the during the podcast and I know what Louisa and I are gonna be drinking tonight as we’ve watched the Dodger game.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 48:11
Perfect. I know. I admit I actually opened them last night because I was like, I’m gonna have them tonight. And then I’m gonna taste them the next day. So I’ve been enjoying them.
Matt Kettmann 48:20
I knew that I was gonna have to do this podcast in my guest room, which is carpeted and my wife doesn’t let me bring wines in here. So I didn’t even, I actually didn’t open them. But thank you Nicole and Bob for joining Wine Enthusiast on our on our podcast. I think our listeners will learn a lot about or should have learned a lot about cool climate Syrah and we thank you for for joining us.
Nicole Bertotti Pope 48:43
Lauren Buzzeo 48:47
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. From original Rhône Rangers like Bob to modern-day renegades like Nicole, there’s so much deliciousness to discover when it comes to the world of American cool-climate Syrah, from California’s Central Coast and even throughout the West Coast. We definitely talked about a lot of different wines today, with so many exciting recommendations worth checking out. So be sure to visit winemag.com/podcast to learn even more about these selections and beyond. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you find your podcast. And if you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too. You can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more wine reviews, recipes, guides, deep dives and stories, visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers.