Discover Syrah in Ballard Canyon

A tiny, new AVA with just a handful of producers is emerging as one of the world’s great spots for Syrah. Discover Ballard Canyon today, before word gets out!


One of Syrah’s problem with consumers has always been the savory nature of the wine that is often coupled with some aggressive tannins. The solution to both issues, if and when they are viewed as problems, has been to get Syrah so ripe that it is all about fruit, has minimal tannins, and at the same time low acidity and no real complexity. As a variety Syrah is tough to farm precisely because of this. However in the right spots and with the right soils, and of course conscientious care in the vineyards it is possible to get Syrah that is full of fruit, with ripe tannins, and intact acidity that still displays the savory and sometimes peppery complexity that the grape is famous for. Ladies and gentlemen, that place is Ballard Canyon. 

Located smack in the center of the Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard canyon is an AVA completely surround by the Santa Ynez AVA. One of the most recent AVAs, having achieved recognition only a year ago in October of 2013, Ballard Canyon is also on the most quickly developed AVAs. While blessed with a long history of farming and ranching, the first vineyards arrived in Ballard Canyon only in 1974 and significant planting in the region really didn’t kick off until the 1990s. And yet here we are, just a few decades later not only celebrating the Ballard Canyon AVA, but recognizing that this is a special place, and in particular a special place for Syrah, though the tiny plantings of Grenache and Nebbiolo have also been pretty impressive.
With only 18 producers and growers and under 600 acres, out of a potential of 7,700 within the AVA under vine, it might seem that we’re making a mountain out of a molehill , but those molehills, the elevation here rises to about 1250, made of Interlacing layers of sand and chert, over a base of chalk and precious limestone have proven to be ideal for Syrah. The orientation of Ballard Canyon, running South to North as it does, not only offers protection from the coastal influence that has made much of the region ideal for Pinot Noir, but also affords hillside vineyard a direct view of the sun throughout the day. 
While the sun does bless Ballard Canyon with a more moderate and warmer climate than much of the region, the canyon allows for excellent heat drainage at night ensuring the great diurnal shift that is one of the key’s to the region as a whole’s succes. Sun, well drained soils, cool evening and added warmth late in the season allow growers to not only fully ripen their fruit, which is of course rarely a problem in california, but they can do it while retaining acidity in the fruit, and developing both ripe tannins in the skins and deep rich flavors.
Ballard Canyon Syrah is still learning what it wants to be when it grows up. The wines are already undoubtedly quite fine, and among the best of the variety, but the wines up to now have often been made with young vines and clones that may not have been ideally suited to their sites. That’s the phase ballard Canyon already finds itself in. It’s a phase of refinement that will certainly lead to wines with more finesse and complexity in the future, though this remains a region where capturing the power Syrah is capable of might always be the variety's ultimate expression.
neither inexpensive nor easy drinking, these are wines that strive to make a name for themselves, and rightly so. With such limited vineyard acreage, and limited potential for adding more, both due to the small size of the AVA and regions water issues, Ballard Canyon Syrah will, for the foreseeable future, remain a bit of a rarity. A such it make sense for producers to continue to push the boundaries here, and challenge us with their unique expressions of Syrah.  We should challenge them to keep going.
A few examples of Ballard Canyon Syrah will better help define the style of the wines, though as I have written I’m not sure that the style has been fully defined. It’s also worth noting that 2012 was a bit of a cooler vintage, and one that might appeal more to my palate than those of people more accustomed to richer vintages. 2010 was even cooler and longer, and again is my kind of vintage, which is reflected in my reviews of the following wines.

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  • Snooth User: Platten
    1538213 15

    Please unsubscribe me from your email list
    Thank you

    Sep 25, 2014 at 7:12 PM

  • Please unsubscribe me!

    Sep 25, 2014 at 11:02 PM

  • Snooth User: qutiful
    1333123 43

    Why so expensive?

    Sep 26, 2014 at 12:49 PM

  • Snooth User: c1scott
    1532541 1

    lovely reviews of delicious-looking wines. Looks as if we have found the AVA to compete with Chateauneuf du Papes. Perhaps this AVA calls for a heavier hand with Syrah in Ballard Canyon blends, than in the Southern Rhone Valley; I wonder how Cinsault, petit verdot and a few other 'CDP minorities' might fare in Ballard Valley -- and then help winemakers create more complex, full, long-finishing wines with plenty of peppery, minerally pop, yet an overall smooth mouth feel?

    Sep 27, 2014 at 9:44 PM

  • Snooth User: rckr1951
    Hand of Snooth
    127503 3,757

    Ballard Canyon has been a favorite of mine for a while. Stolpman and
    Beckmann and Rusack mainly. If you search you may find them cheaper, I do and I do - and it's worth the hunt. Stolpman and have been at consistently high levels for years, while the Beckmann has, over the last 3-4 vintages, been very, very solid also.

    Oct 26, 2016 at 1:41 PM

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