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Behrens & Hitchcock Syrah (1.5L Magnum) 1997
However, the roots of Behrens & Hitchcock are found in Folie Douce, the award-winning restaurant Lisa Drinkward and Les Behrens launched in 1991 in Arcata, California. While Lisa was developing an incredible, French-inspired menu, Les was busy cultivating a superb wine list and cellar which eventually received the Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence. In the course of creating the wine list, Les met many winemakers and received encouragement from several to begin making his own wine. The idea, which seemed almost nonsensical at first, quickly began to take root in Les' mind.
As customers of Les' frequent wine tastings at Folie Douce, Joe Bob and Lily Hitchcock learned of Les' winemaking idea and that Les was trying to raise the startup capital. Almost immediately, the wheels began to turn in Joe Bob's mind. If Les was really crazy enough to make wine, Joe Bob thought he just might be crazy enough to join in the venture. Joe Bob's background in business management - both in the corporate world and more recently as a business consultant and tax preparer - was the perfect complement to Les' winemaking. Joe Bob became General Manager of the winery and, together with Lily, handled the finance and administrative side of the business while also jumping into much of the "dirty work" of making wine under Les' winemaking direction.
The inaugural 1993 crush produced 175 cases and was indeed a labor of love. The two families quickly developed into a team dedicated to the common goal of making small batches of high quality red wine. Over the next three years, the winery expanded to 750 cases per year and took over a new building at Les and Lisa's home as well as a lot of Joe Bob and Lily's house which was used for case goods storage.
In August of 1997, they decided it was time to give up their day jobs and move the winery from Arcata to the Napa Valley. They rented a winery east of Napa where the winery grew even larger to 3,500 cases, but something was still missing. What they really wanted was a winery of their own. After looking at every winery, shack and vacant acreage available in the Napa Valley, they finally found their home on top of Spring Mountain. Les designed the winery, and together with his son, Sean, and lots of helping hands, built the winery in possibly record time as the 1999 harvest was only a few months away. The 1999 crush took place in an incomplete facility with only a generator for electricity. There have been significant additions, including two caves, as production expanded, but this always-under-construction winery, with their crazy dog and beautiful views, continues to be the beloved home of their passion for making small batches of handcrafted wines.
One of the world's most highly regarded regions for wine production as well as tourism, the Napa Valley was responsible for bringing worldwide recognition to California winemaking. In the 1960's, a few key wine families settled the area and hedged their bets on the valley's world-class winemaking potential—and they were right.
The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980's, when producers scooped up vineyard lands and planted vines throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, and today Napa is home to hundreds of producers ranging from boutique to corporate. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux blends. Napa whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that claim specific characteristics based on situation, slope and soil. Farthest south and coolest from the influence of the San Pablo Bay is Carneros, followed by Coombsville to its northeast and then Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford. Above those is the warm St. Helena and the valley's newest and hottest AVA, Calistoga. These areas follow the valley floor and are known generally for creating rich, dense, complex and smooth reds with good aging potential. The mountain sub appellations, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs, include Stags Leap District, Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley (farther east), Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain District and Diamond Mountain District. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from a lot of time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
Marked by unmistakable aromatics, a savory palate, and an elegant texture, Syrah is capable of producing fascinatingly complex and long-lived wines with a stunning purple hue. Native to the Northern Rhône, Syrah’s best examples are found in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. It is also an important component of the GSM blends of the Southern Rhône and beyond, alongside Grenache and Mourvèdre. Both varietal Syrah and GSM blends are common in Australia and California and are gaining popularity in Washington State. In Australia, Syrah is known by the synonym Shiraz, which tends to indicate a bolder, fruit-driven style of wine, and is occasionally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for added depth and structure.
In the Glass
At its best, Syrah shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper, smoke, and even bacon fat. Many examples from California aim to recreate this savory style, while others focus more on concentrated fruit flavors. In Australia, under the name Shiraz, it shines as that country’s unofficial signature red grape, producing deep, dark, intense, and often jammy reds.
Cool-climate Syrah, with its peppery spices, is a natural match with flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb dishes, where the spice is more about flavor than heat. With Australian Shiraz, grown in warmer regions, heavy meat dishes with abundant protein and fat are a necessity to match the intensity of the wine.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” this synonym for Syrah has been adopted by winemakers throughout the world. If the label says “Shiraz,” you can typically expect a plush, fruity, and potent wine made in the Australian style. New World "Syrah" will generally more closely resemble the French style.