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Hocus Pocus: No Need For Magic With This California Syrah

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I continue to be impressed with the quality of Syrah in California...Savvy consumers will want to take advantage of the fabulous pricing..." - Antonio Galloni in The Wine Advocate.


Those of you who follow California Syrah have probably heard the myths of the "Death of Syrah" in California. Over the past 10-15 years producers in both Northern California and on the Central Coast have made Syrah out of love for the grape but struggled to move the wine after the fact.  It's sort of understandable; the patrician grape of such heralded northern Rhône regions as Cote Rotie and Hermitage is not a natural nomad. It unarguably expresses itself best in its place of origin. But as critics haggle over its legitimacy in California, whether it is in fact overplanted and underappreciated, a small pocket of winemakers persist in advancing the merits of Syrah's California interpretation, ecking out its unique  combination of delicate black pepper perfume, robust earthy minerals, and rich black fruit and baking spice.  

Local LA husband and wife team Amy Christine and Peter Hunken are two such innovators. Hunken got his start at acclaimed Stolpman Vineyards in 2001 where he worked as assistant winemaker until 2006. Christine was working as a somm at an LA restaurant when she chanced to meet her future husband while spitting out wine in Santa Barbara in 2004. One day on a hike they bantered about producing a syrah together, and the Black Sheep Finds project was born. Within months the grapes were being crushed.

"We have long been proponents of Syrah from the Central Coast and more specifically from Santa Barbara County. Syrah can be aromatically complex, rich in fruit and not overly alcoholic - really a great trio of characteristics," says Christine, who is about to receive her Master of Wine certification.  "One of our initial inspirations for Hocus Pocus Syrah was to bridge a gap between small production Syrah and affordability.  The first vintage was released in 2006 when many entry level Syrah bottlings retailed at $30 or more.  We wanted to offer something that was very high in quality for less than $20. There are more producers going in this direction now, but at the time of our first release (before the recession) the price point and lighter style were less ubiquitous."

2009 Hocus Pocus Syrah Santa Barbara County - average retail $16.95

Aromas of black current, blackberry, smoke, and black pepper on the nose lead to a velvety, juicy dark wine on the palate with good stuffing and a cornucopia of voluptuous fruit. Pair with pork chops with fruit compote and Thanksgiving dinner.

Lily Davis is the Marketing Manager and Staff Writer at Woodland Hills Wine Company in Los Angeles.

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