When I tasted with Mohseni on Jan. 7, he, Burrows and Matt Mauldin, Zaca Mesa’s California sales manager, were eager to share what they had in store on Jan. 15. Given the vineyard’s history with syrah, and Mohsenti’s desire to brainstorm fresh ideas on how to market syrah to consumers, he and his staff had organized a “Syrah Bull Session.” Invited were Santa Barbara County’s syrah legends, among them Bob Lindquist, Craig Jaffurs, Bill Wathen of Foxen and Chad Melville of Melville and Samsara.

Since Hospice du Rhone relocated to Tennessee, and the the Rhone Rangers’ closest event takes place in San Francisco, Mosheni hoped today’s inaugural tasting would kick start other sessions throughout the year, and he plans to host a second seminar later this spring, with a date to be determined.

Syrah samples from the winemakers participating at Zaca Mesa's "Bull Session" on Jan. 15

On this morning, we were seated around tables in the cellar, ready to taste more than syrahs, and talk clones, climate and consumers.

Santa Barbara County syrah is a force with which to be reckoned, with 8 percent of the county’s vineyards planted to syrah. That compares to 6 percent of vineyards throughout California.

In addition to Zaca Mesa, those participating were the winemakers from Casa Dumetz, Fess Parker, Blair Fox Cellars, Firestone, Foxen, Jaffurs, Melville/Samsara, Municipal and Qupe.

Each winemaker poured two or three wine samples, and discussed clones, rootstock, barrel aging and winemaking techniques.

One of Mohseni’s wines, for example, was a barrel sample of 2013 Syrah, Estrella clone, planted on 37-year-old own rooted vines that grow in sandy loam soil.

Representing Coastal Vineyard Care Associates were Jeff Newton, Ruben Solorzano and Ben Merz.

A representative from Sunridge Nurseries was invited but unable to attend, Mohseni noted, as were a few other local winemakers.

The Estrella clone was one of the stars of the day, for as Chad Melville pointed out, “there’s more Estrella planted here (Santa Barbara County) than throughout Northern California.” Other clonal discussion boosted the merits of 470, 877, 383 and 174.

Despite Estrella’s prevalence, it seems that no one clone is more “popular” than another. When asked to define the clone most in demand, Newton responded: “Our criteria is to follow the lead of the winemaker.

In addition, multiple syrah clones on own-rooted rootstock in a particular block “creates an interesting mix” in a wine, Newton said.

Lindquist, whose Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in Edna Valley was planted in 2005, favors terroir over clonal choice, noting how his site resembles “coolness” found in the Santa Maria Valley, where “cool climate syrah” really shines.

Santa Barbara County as a whole has “uniqueness” not found in other nearby regions because of the overall coolness found here, Lindquist said.

The winemakers present agreed that a tasting of library wines and a syrah “site tasting” would be educational, and that “banding together to get wine out there to the sommeliers and press” would benefit producers across the board.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press