Which CA Syrah producers use whole cluster fermentation?

On the heels of drinking this wonderful 2011 Drew Syrah I am curious which other producers use 100 % whole cluster fermentation in their Syrah. If there are other threads on this topic I apologize in advance and will go find them.

Nate, the one thing that comes to mind are the Wind Gap wines, made by Pax Mahle. These are savory wines, full of whole cluster, acidity, great blue and red fruit and intensity. I love these wines and if you want to get a sense of them, contact the winery and try the 2011s. Their terrific.

As to the percentage of inclusion, I’d not get wrapped around the # of the inclusion and instead look for where inclusion works. Somtimes this style can be harsh so I appreciate guys who modulate their approach, like say Pax. Kevin Harvey of Rhys makes a great Horseshoe syrah that I believe will vary across the percentage spectrum, yet the wine is super.

FWIW, here are a cuple of my own recent impressions:

  • 2012 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Nellessen Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Green Valley (4/17/2014)
    So I’m second into the mix here, followed by Matt who weighed in to kick off. I opened this bottle y/day to pour some quick glasses of wine before heading out to see some music. I could sense the wine change just being open for 20 mins, as the air evolved the texture and bouquet. So, the note here is with a day of slox ox, and I believe the wine is pretty well fleshed out now. This has some elements of what I sometimes call ‘camp fire’, so think smoke, char, that bouquet that comes from cool climate and some whole cluster. Savory. The palate is all about texture, flushed with crunch, black cherry fruit, the dark plum that Matt mentioned in his note, along with blueberry and licorice. Really juicy. The acid is all woven into the juicy, crunchier dark fruit. I’ll say, this wine savored up over night, as y/day it was mix of more suave, pure blue and red fruit but today, more sauvage and refeshingly cool. Finishes with more whole cluster signatures of black olive, lavender and char, rocks. I have no problem drinking this now but in terms of the drink window, I’d say now for the next 5-6 years. Really good.

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  • 2011 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Sonoma Coast - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (12/30/2013)
    I opened this about an hour ago, just sitting watching some Hawks/Kings hockey and taking the wine in without food. I’m a fan of the winery, for sure, and I was jazzed up to get one of these opened to see what 11.4% syrah tastes like: would it taste dilute, green, crappy, awkward, etc? Putting aside the discussion about alc %, I’ll just call this as I see it. Damn good. Aromatically, this is hard to miss, as it’s packed up with smoke, cracked black pepper and spices–really distinctive. The palate? Juicy, with juicy blue fruit, red rancher hard candy, olive, leather and a cool savory quality that I consistently associate to this bottling. For a comparison, this reminds me a lot of the 2010 Copain Baker Ranch, and no surprise given the amount of this vineyard in the composition of the wine (40%), it speaks of the Armagh Vineyard. This is not lean, weedy or under-nourished but instead savory, bright fruited and good. On the second day open, the wine remains juicy and the blue fruit has really come into the foreground, with a long finish. What will turn off some here, I believe, is the cool climate, meaty, savory quality, which is precisely why I buy and enjoy the Wind Gap wines. I dig what Pax continues to do with the Wind Gap wines, pushing the edges of things and doing it fantastic.

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  • 2010 Rhys Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains (4/10/2013)
    100% whole cluster, no new wood. Pepper, incense, cooked meat and steak sauce are the aromatics. Soy and steak sauce in the fruit, blueberry, savory and gamey. Good finishing acids. This is cool climate syrah, low alc and what I would expect from this site. I love this style.

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All of my wines, including my Sumu Kaw Vineyard syrah, are 100% whole cluster.

Myriad and Quivet for sure. I suspect Apsara also.

I’ve heard from a somewhat reliable source that all of the Sandler Syrahs and all but two of the August West Syrahs produced since 2004 are 100% whole cluster.

Beat me to it Bud. Yep Robin does it as well.

We are hearing about some rain coming this weekend too, might be time to try the 2012 next to the 2011.

That’s right, had forgot that Mr Kurtzman. I still own 2005 and 2006 Sandler Connell. Had one recently?

FWIW, forgot about Apsara. Had the 2011 whole cluster Las Madres recently and I didn’t sense the stems at all. Very nice wine.

Thanks Frank.
Our Syrahs have been 100% Whole Cluster since 2008 with the exception of the 2011 vintage.

Frank, I just had a 2005 recently, it was still youthful and showed a lot more on day 2 and day 3. I haven’t had a 2006 for a long time, but that seems to be a customer favorite of the Sandler Connell Syrahs, which is surprising (or not), since it’s by far the ripest.

I dig whole cluster characteristics in most rhones, and have been doing partial to whole whold cluster on my grenaches for quite some time. I’ve done partial whole cluster on a few syrahs, and 100% on my 09 Thompson Syrah - a wine that ‘evolved and transformned’ in barrel more than any other that I’ve made to date.

I take a somewhat pragmatic view to whole cluster - and no, it does not have to do with the ‘ripeness of the stems’. It has more to do with the quality of the fruit coming in, the characteristics of that vintage (too hot, too cold, etc), and things I’ve noted from previous vintages from that same block. I’ll also note that I don’t use any new oak with my wines - the newest oak barrel I’ve ever used is 2 year old, and most of the barrels I use are 3-7 year old barrels.

I loved where the 2013 fruit was from all sources and decided to go 100% whole cluster on my grenaches, syrahs, and some of my Mourvedre ta boot. Can’t say that this is what I will do with the vintage coming up - I’ll have to see how everything plays out.

There are a few others in our area that are using whole cluster. No Limits, a wine that is made by Ethan Lindquist, Bob’s son, from the Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard across the street from Alban, has been 100% whole cluster since their first release a few years ago. I know Jaffurs experiments a bit, but not sure about percentages . . .

This is not something that many are doing in our area with syrah - more apt to see it done with pinot around here.


All the Clos Saron Syrahs are whole cluster.

Id be curious to know what characteristics of the fruit you find works well with stem inclusion. Im thinking of doing some with Zinfandel this vintage but Im a little wary since Ive never (to my knowledge) had a stem-included Zin. I might just do one lot with stems as an experiment.


Wish it were that simple - to me, it’s truly a ‘personal’ deciions. That said, if the growing season has been somewhat ‘normal’ and the fruit has good intensity, I’ll lean towards whole cluster. Also note that I’m keeping my reds in neutral oak for upwards of 30 months, allowing a good amount of time for the stems to integrate well. If I were bottling 11 months out, like many others do, I would hesitate to work with the same percentage of stem inclusion . . .


Berry, it’s not easy to find this wine (very small production and AFAIK only released to friends & family) but it was unique and really excellent:

  • 2012 Arnot-Roberts Zinfandel Kirschenmann - USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi (1/24/2014)
    Tasted at ZAP Flights. According to the winemaker Kirschenmann was picked 2 weeks before any other winery. Foot-stomped 100% whole cluster, native yeasts, raised in one 5 year old puncheon and one 7 year old barrel. 12.5% ABV.

Light ruby color with tart raspberry, very floral nose. Palate is all spice-driven, cinnamon and clove with white pepper with lightweight mouthfeel, followed by a subtle cranberry high tone. Very structured yet feminine. Fascinating take on zin, atypical but still much in common with the other Kirschenmann zins at the tasting.

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One other important point about whole cluster inclusion - there is a huge trend toward making ‘carbonic style’ reds these days, including syrah. In this case, whole cluster is used but punch downs or foot stomping is kept to a minimum. The stems are being used more to help keep the grapes intact and allow for carbonic rather than to add structure and aromatic complexity to the wine.


There is one bottle here in Curry co and it’s not mine!

Thanks Larry. I struggle with tasting grapes and extrapolating out what the character of wine they will produce or even concentration/intensity. I can detect sweetness and acid, but I have to be honest that I even have a hard time getting varietal character out of grapes unless its something like Gewürztraminer or cool climate cab franc. Presumably this skill will come to me with more experience.

Thanks! That sounds somewhat like the style I aim for. I’ll have to try and search on out.

Im still working through my opinion of whole berry style fermentation. My experiments last year produced some VERY tutti-fruity wine, but I didn’t do side by comparisons from the same vineyard. The tutti-fruiti nature did calm down with aging though and became more floral. This year I’ll some side by side comparisons.

Sorry for the thread drift Nate!