Syrah: From the Rhone to the Columbia

Syrah: From the Rhone to the Columbia

When I started making wine back in 2007, I quickly realized that Syrah and I would form a lifelong connection. Of all the classic Rhône wines like Grenache, Mourvedre, and Viognier, Syrah grapes provide unmatched versatility and character. Syrah is a true “winemaker’s wine,” producing dramatically varying wines despite all coming from the same grape. Variables like climate, geography, and time of harvest, along with winemaking decisions like the use of newer or older oak barrels, whole cluster fermentation, and length of aging mean two winemakers using grapes from the exact same vineyard can produce vastly different wines. Today, Hawkins is proud to offer three separate Syrah expressions, each reflecting and highlighting the diversity of this spectacular grape. 

History of Syrah

Syrah’s roots trace back to the ancient vineyards of the Rhône Valley, where it gained prominence in the northern Rhône regions of Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. The grape’s journey across the globe began in the 18th century when French explorers and settlers transported Syrah vines to various corners of the world, including South America, Australia (where it’s called Shiraz), and most importantly from our perspective, the Pacific Northwest. 

Washington’s viticultural history dates back to the mid-19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the wine industry in the region really began to flourish. Syrah found a foothold in the hot and dry Columbia and Yakima Valleys, and winemakers soon recognized the state’s potential to produce high-quality wines due to its diverse microclimates and fertile soils.

Washington State Syrah

Washington has become a notable player in the global Syrah scene, with its diverse terroirs and climatic variations contributing to the unique expression of the grape. The state’s key Syrah-producing regions include Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, and Horse Heaven Hills. The Columbia Valley, encompassing many of these sub-regions, serves as a broad appellation known for its versatility and ability to produce a range of grape varieties, including Syrah.

Yakima Valley:

Yakima Valley, one of Washington State’s oldest and most diverse wine regions, is home to numerous vineyards and wineries specializing in Syrah. The warm days and cool nights of the Yakima Valley contribute to the development of ripe, fruit-forward Syrah with a good balance of acidity.

Horse Heaven Hills

Horse Heaven Hills, situated in Southeast Washington near the Oregon border, has gained acclaim for its Syrah characterized by intense flavors, robust structure, and excellent aging potential. The region’s well-drained soils and distinct temperature variations contribute to the concentration and complexity of Horse Heaven Hills Syrah.

Red Mountain:

Red Mountain, known for its warm climate and rich, red soils, produces Syrah wines with deep color, bold fruit flavors, and a firm tannic structure. The small size and unique terroir of Red Mountain contribute to the distinct expression of Syrah from this region.

Hawkins’ Syrah Offerings

Reserve Syrah: This is the wine that started it all: the first bottle of Hawkins Cellars wine ever produced was a bottle of Reserve Syrah. Over 15 years later, this is still the backbone of our winery and a personal favorite of your winemaker. The theme of this wine is richness. Generous with aromas and velvety tannins, this wine improves for a full 24 hours after pulling the cork, proving it to be a great wine for the cellar. We employ around 20% new French and American oak and use between 50 and 75% whole cluster during fermentation for all our Syrah wines. Whole cluster means that we do not take the stems off when we start fermenting the wine.  This process tends to take Syrah from a fruit forward offering to something with more structure and tannin.  Often whole cluster Syrah is defined by notes of tobacco and clove.

Coyote Canyon Vineyard Syrah: Experience the essence of Horse Heaven Hills AVA with our Coyote Canyon Vineyard Syrah. Grown in the sun-drenched hillsides of Southeast Washington, this single-vineyard Syrah reflects the region’s unique terroir. Savor bold notes of blackberries, dark cherries, and a hint of dark chocolate. With bold, structured tannins and balanced acidity, our Syrah is a refined expression of craftsmanship, capturing the spirit of Horse Heaven Hills in a bottle. This is one of our most age-worthy wines, as the bold tannins soften over time to create lush and complex notes of leather, meatiness, and smoke.

Boushey Vineyard Syrah: Legendary grape grower Dick Boushey first planted his vineyard in the Yakima Valley over 40 years ago and was one of the first people to grow Syrah in Washington post-Prohibition. Today, the Boushey Vineyard produces some of the finest grapes grown anywhere in the world. Hawkins’ Boushey Vineyard Syrah captivates with a symphony of flavors, including dark plum, blackberry, and subtle notes of white pepper. The vineyard’s high elevation and well-drained soils contribute to a wine with impeccable structure and a velvety texture.

Bottom Line

Syrah’s journey from the vineyards of the Rhône Valley to the farthest reaches of the wine world is a testament to its adaptability and allure. The grape has flourished in diverse climates and soils, producing wines that captivate enthusiasts with their complexity and depth. We invite you to explore the world of Syrah with us by tasting one of our unique expressions of this charismatic grape.

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