Frey Vineyards likes to offer customers a wide range of organic and non-sulfited wines. Among other things, this has led us into producing both Syrah and Petite Sirah wines. The similarity in the names leads many to lump them together. In reality they are distinct varietals with unique histories, characteristics and flavors.
Syrah and Petite Sirah are both technically French Rhone varietals but Syrah enjoys a much richer and storied history. Syrah is one of the parent grapes of Petite Sirah, and one of the most widely planted French varietals, while Petite Sirah, although developed in France in the 1860’s, is almost non-existent in Europe!
Syrah is a Noble grape variety and firmly rooted in French winegrowing. Its origins are ancient and legends of its beginnings abound. Syrah may have been referenced by Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder. Some believe it was brought to France by a crusader returning from his journeys and planted in Hermitage, one of the regions famous for its Syrah wines. DNA profiling in 1999 found Syrah to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France: Dureza and Mondeuse blanche, grown for at least 2,000 years. Syrah is a primary component of Côte du Rhone and Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends in France. In Australia it is Shiraz, the most cultivated grape Down Under. Syrah is the seventh most planted grape in California.
Flavors and styles of Syrah are greatly influenced by climate and growing conditions.
French Syrahs are known for subtle flavors of leather, tobacco and “animale,” an almost indescribable flavor hinting of animal, sweat, man or raw meat. Yum! Australian “New World” Shiraz wines are fruit-forward, spicy and full of jammy plum flavors. California Syrahs vary depending on growing region, and here at Frey Vineyards our winemaker Paul Frey always says it is his favorite to work with. Our Syrahs offer a marriage of the two styles: full-bodied, with forward plum juiciness and a subtle finish of rich earthy tobacco and chewy tannins.
While Syrah and Petite Sirah both made their way to California in the late 1800s, original plantings of Syrah were wiped out by the root-eating Phylloxera louse and weren’t reintroduced until the 1950s. Syrah has gained wide acceptance and is now a common grape, still far behind Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but with over 7,000 acres in production. Petite Sirah plantings in California are older than most other varieties, but it is not widely planted with only an estimated 2,500 acres today.
Unlike Syrah, the origins of Petite Sirah are clear. Petite Sirah was originally named Durif for the viticulturist Francois Durif whose nursery first produced the grape in the 1860s. Durif was bred from a nursery cross-pollination of the noble Syrah grape and Peloursin, an obscure varietal that is now almost extinct in France. For the first century of its existence Durif was seen as nothing more than a useful grape for strengthening weak blends, as it has lots of tannins and color and good acidity.
Durif made its way to California in the late 1800’s where the name Petite Sirah gradually overtook Durif, due to the fact that it is generally less vigorous than Syrah and the berry size is smaller. Local Mendocino County growers commonly refer to their Petite Sirah blocks as their “Pets.” The high skin to juice ratio makes Petite Sirah an inky and full-bodied wine, relatively high in acid with characteristic spicy and peppery tones. Here as well, it was a blender, a common component in field blend plantings where vineyards are planted out to several varieties that are harvested, fermented and aged together. Petite Sirah was not yet embraced as a varietal wine in its own right. That changed in the 1970s and 1980s when California was a hotbed of winemaking innovation and experimentation. Winemakers began to prize Petite Sirah for its unique flavors and cellaring ability and it is now grown throughout the state. In the last fifty years, the grape became more established in the hotter climates of California, Australia, Israel and Mexico than its native Europe.
Frey Vineyards’ Petite Sirah is grown in a relatively cool section of our Redwood Valley Home Ranch, with afternoon shade and cool breezes blowing down the Enchanted Canyon of Mariposa Creek. Our Petite is medium-bodied, with a subtle herbal bouquet, plum and blueberry flavors, and a lingering tannic finish with a touch of spice.
Syrah or Petite Sirah are both well adapted to our hot and dry climate in Inland Mendocino. They are full-bodied rich wines with lots of flavor and color. We encourage you to explore their uniqueness and similarities and look forward to many more vintages of each of these outstanding wines!
Cheers and Happy Springtime!
Peach tree in blossom in Frey organic Syrah vineyard.
April Fools Day dawned early for those who were foolish enough to sign up for vineyard frost protection. The first of April brought our first spring frost in the early morning hours and the first night of Frost Patrol. Temperatures dipped into the low 30s and grape growers throughout Mendocino County scurried about, running overhead irrigation to protect tender new grape shoots from freezing. Looking ahead into April we are anticipating much colder temperatures than we experienced in February and March. We expect many more nights of freezing temperatures before danger of frost ends in mid May.
The current fabled California Drought has created some of the most incredible vintages in recent memory. So far, 2015 has started with the warmest winter on record in California and consequently one of the earliest bud breaks observed on the North Coast. Every variety including Cabernet Sauvignon awoke from dormancy before the first of April. We are fortunately at our average seasonal rainfall for our region now and are looking forward to April showers to bring May flowers - grape flowers, that is!
Mustard cover crop in Frey organic Cab vineyard.
With the cover crops in full bloom and the fields abuzz with insects and birds, we are starting spring field cultivation. We are in the process of spreading composted grape skins, stems and seeds from previous harvests that will be incorporated into the soil when the cover crops are mowed and disked in as a green manure. This introduction of organic matter into the soils year after year is a cornerstone of our organic soil fertility management.
Young plantings of Tempranillo, Barbera and Malbec from 2013 at our Road D Ranch are getting established right on schedule for a first vintage of 2017. This site boasts USGS classified Red Vine Clay Loam soil, renowned for growing hearty red grape varietals in Redwood Valley. We look forward to experimenting with and adding these varieties to our portfolio of organic, additive-free wines.
After three flawless vintages, we are expecting Mother Nature to dish out some heavy weather in 2015. There is an Old Farmer’s Wive’s Tale that for one in every ten years of farming the conditions are perfect, and that is considered the norm. The nine years in between always bring something to complain about. We don’t need 2015 to be an extraordinary year, we’d be perfectly happy with another “normal” vintage! Cheers and good wishes for a happy and healthful spring season!
Crows search for worms and bugs behind the plow.
Harvesting Frey Organic & Biodynamic Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Due to a warm spring and hot dry summer conditions, the 2014 harvest started 2 weeks ahead of average. The first three weeks were very busy because all of the white varietals got ripe at the same time. September and early October were hot, and all berries reached optimal sugar levels ahead of other years, so clusters were allowed to hang and reach physiological ripeness, with nutty seeds, non-bitter skins and gentle tannins. We got some much-needed rain during harvest, but it wasn’t enough to alleviate drought conditions or damage fruit. Across the board, the quality was exceptional and yields were near average.
Vineyard Manager Derek Dahlen at the weigh station.
Frey Vineyards is now farming a new ranch here in Redwood Valley! The Walt Ranch is planted with Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet and Petite Sirah grapes and was managed organically by veteran grape grower Tony Milani for the past 25 years. Tony passed away in March and we look forward to carrying on his tradition of organic grape farming on this beautiful land.
Adam Frey rescues a Pileated Woodpecker.
This year we had visits from several wildlife friends: deer, fox, turkeys and woodpeckers, who live in the adjacent forests and venture out night and day to feast on grapes. We have a mama bear and 2 cubs visiting our apple and fig trees, nightly. Adam Frey rescued a wounded Pileated woodpecker at Road D Ranch and nursed it back to health. Although they eat valuable fruit, we are happy to be surrounded by forests that provide habitat for healthy populations of wild animals, no matter their occasional nibbling!
Moving into November, cover crop seeding, Biodynamic horn manure spraying and compost spreading are nearly completed for the season. We are getting some nice rains this week to enliven the soil for the horn manure and ensure good germination of the cover crops. The grape leaves are turning to fall colors and the vines are headed for dormancy for the winter. The vineyards and their keepers are looking forward to a lull until pruning begins after the winter solstice. In the meantime, we are praying for more rain. Please join us in that endeavor!
We look forward to sharing an excellent 2014 vintage with you soon. Cheers!
Harvest 2014 is over!
Éva-Marie Lind, parfumeur and CEO/founder of EM Studios Arome in Portland, Oregon, provides us with her next installment of tasting notes for Frey organic and Biodynamic wines. EM Studios Arome specializes in aromatic and olfactory artistry, with a concentration on whole earth ingredients, sensory attunement, and botanical beauty. We love how Éva-Marie’s poetic descriptions take us out of the ordinary Wine Tasting 101 textbook and into a fecund and ethereal world.
2013 Organic Sauvignon Blanc
Sheer delight met my nose as cherries, vanilla and the inference of the sweet, honeyed 2-penylethyl acetate found in freesia danced forward. In the mouth, a symphony of tropical fruit, the blush of apricot feathered with bergamot, and the fragrance of blackberry flowers where they join at the vine. She unfolds as a mountain creek tumbling over rock, opening into deeper and brighter clarity that is held fast to the zest of Sicilian lemon embellished with the slight tang of star fruit.
2013 Organic Chardonnay
Near luminescent in her aroma, she blossoms into hints of pale early spring tulip petals and the inner breath of white lotus, kissed by moon glow, just before dawn. This one jumps forward with a lovely clarity, yet she is surprisingly voluptuous in the mouth where a momentary splash of pink grapefruit announces the structured waltz of d’anjou pear with the inner blushed heart of a pink lady apple, delicately hugged by a butterscotch cape and offering a lovely crisp, well-lingering finish.
2013 Organic Pinot Noir
Meeting my nose appealingly soft with a subtle floral heart sidling to a blush of blueberries and a whisper of balsam fir and clean earth. What appears more simple and straight forward, begins to triumph in the mouth as her elegantly crisp, drier bouquet opens into a more pronounced impression of golden osmanthus blooms and a layering of fruity leather, a touch of tabac, a sheathing of black licorice, and a smooth velour finish.
2013 Biodynamic® Merlot
The delightful surprise of slight toffee malt and new bud spruce meets your nose, with an inference of tamarind, greeting a blushing orchestration of dark berries on the vine. In the mouth, plush and full-bodied, expressing a marion berry compote, teased by the outer shell notes of pink pepper playing tag at the edges, holding hands with the sheerest inference of the sweetened dry-down notes of saffron. Tannins fill the mouth, drawing all these chords together into a brilliant subtlety, as when standing at the center of an orchard at nightfall when sunset blushes upon warm fruit and exhausted air settles into a harmonious center.
There has been a lot of talk about drought this year in California, and two months ago we were in the middle of one of the driest winters on record. Thankfully, since the beginning of February we have seen nearly 30 inches of rainfall in Mendocino County. Lake Mendocino, which provides water locally and for heavier populated Sonoma County downstream is finally filling up. Now, looking around, all of our ponds are overflowing, the hillsides are radiating brilliant shades of green, and the grapevines are awakening from their winter dormancy by sprouting fresh shoots.
Organic Syrah budding out, Frey Vineyards.
While grapes can survive in extremely dry climates, water is crucial to grape growing in areas of California like ours for frost protection. While the vines are breaking bud and the tender new growth that will become the fruiting wood for the season is emerging, we often experience killing freezes that can jeopardize the fruit and decimate a vine’s ability to produce to its full potential. To avoid frost damage grape growers use overhead sprinklers. When the nighttime temperatures approach freezing we turn on sprinklers which keep the temperature at 32 degrees and prevent damage to young shoots and leaves. We are still expecting to see some spring frosts, but so far nothing of consequence. This is good for two reasons: it allows us to save our precious water for irrigation during the dry months and it allows grape farmers to get some sleep instead of prowling the vineyards checking thermometers in the wee hours of freezing nights.
The month of April is quite often rampant with the anxieties of spring fever, and this year is no exception. We are wrapping up our vine pruning and tying work. Pruning is very important because it allows a farmer to control crop load, which directly affects quality. We are also moving full speed ahead with our mowing and cultivating operations. The grape prunings are chopped with a shredder and incorporated back into the soil. Disking in between vine rows incorporates organic matter from cover crops and also locks moisture in the soils by breaking capillary action that allows evaporation through the ground.
Long-range forecasts are calling for a hot and dry summer. During hot summers with temperatures over 100 degrees, Mendocino County enjoys temperature swings of up to 50 degree between day and night. This provides the setting for excellent fruit quality because the daytime heat leads to good sugar development and the cool nights keep the acid high, yielding rich and balanced fruit. Although there are still at least five months until we begin harvest, with quite a few variables to consider, I am beginning to believe that this year is going to be a top-notch vintage!
Spring chickens (and a duck) in organic Syrah Vineyard.
We created Organic Agriculturist Blanc exclusively for Whole Foods customers nationwide, later to be available everywhere. It comprises a delicious blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling grapes. Blended as a counterpart to the original Frey Organic Agriculturist red wine, the Blanc follows suit as a food-friendly and versatile white.
Fermentation in stainless steel and minimal manipulation in the cellar keep the flavors crisp and clean. Aromas of honeysuckle lead the way to refreshing tropical fruit flavors, nuanced by starfruit and lychee. Lush Chardonnay forms the body of the blend and Sauvignon Blanc delivers a hint of sweetgrass. A whisper of 5% Riesling provides a delicate touch of citrus-honey on the finish. Like the floral wreath engraving on the label, the Organic Agriculturist Blanc is the epitome of summer’s bounty waiting to burst forth.
Pairs well with grilled fish topped with peach salsa, or Vietnamese lettuce wraps with a sweet chili dipping sauce.
The label features Lily & Rosie Frey at work in the vineyard. The "A Day in the Life..." column reminds us that we know how to intersperse the hard work with good times here at Frey Ranch. The QR code leads to our upcoming video about young organic farmers and our commitment to caring for the earth for future generations.
Look for Organic Agriculturist Blanc at your local Whole Foods market later this spring!
Join us Saturday, April 12, from 3:00-8:00 pm at Frey Vineyards to celebrate our 3rd Annual Earth Day Biodynamic Farm Tour and Dinner.
Guided farm tours begin at 3:00 pm with a short hike to the barn to visit our farm animals and the bountiful Biodynamic veggie, flower and herb gardens. We'll stroll through the vineyards and olive orchard with a stop off for hors d'oeuvres and wine at the tower. A hay ride brings us back to the winery to celebrate the day with a festive dinner served at 6:00pm in our cellar tasting room. The dinner menu is prepared with seasonal organic ingredients from the Frey Ranch, paired with award-winning Frey organic and Biodynamic wines.
We'll be hosting the tour rain or shine, but we do recommend that you bring boots and an umbrella in case of rain.
Cost for the Farm Tour and Dinner is $45 per person, $30 for Frey Organic Wine Club members. Just the Farm Tour portion of this event is free for Wine Club members and children under 12.
Please call 800.760.3739 or email us (email@example.com) for more information or to RSVP.
Looking for the perfect gift for the holidays? An annual Frey Organic Wine Club membership can be a great answer! We take care of selecting 4 or 6 bottles of organic and Biodynamic wine, packed 3 times a year, and shipped directly to your lucky recipient, tasting notes and pairing suggestions included. And as an added bonus, you as the gift-giver receive 20% off any wine you purchase from us during the year. You have the option of paying a one-time fee of $150/year for a New Moon (4-bottle/shipment) subscription or $300/year for a Full Moon (6-bottle/shipment) subscription, or pay in 3 installments billed at the time of shipping. Shipping charges are additional.
This year’s Holiday Shipment includes a great selection of new releases, and debuts our new Biodynamic label. We’ll include a gift message explaining the details of the club and a pack of pretty cards from our vineyards. Does your friend prefer just red wines? Ask about our Reds Only option for either club tier. We look forward to welcoming your friends and family to the Frey Wine Club! Call us at 800.760.3739 for more details.
In 2011 we were greatly honored when our family was included in an exhibit at the Grace Hudson Museum, Mendocino County’s premier museum in the city of Ukiah. The exhibit was titled “Look at Who We Are: Stories of Home,” which showcased some of the historical families and institutions of the county. The exhibit included the Yokayo Rancheria, the Greenfield Ranch, the City of 10,000 Buddhas, the Wong Family, Measure H and the ban of GMOs in the county, the long-closed Mendocino State Hospital, the Masonite wood mill, the Palace Hotel, and Hop Production in nearby Hopland. When you visit Mendocino County, don't miss the Grace Hudson Museum on your way through!
Part of the Frey Family exhibit in the Grace Hudson Museum, 2011.
Below are more items from the exhibit including the captions written by the museum.
WINE BOTTLE DISPLAY TOWER, Circa 1985
"This wine display was created out of metal scrap by members of the Frey family for a natural products tradeshow in which they participated. These labeled bottles almost span Frey Vineyards winery’s entire existence. All the labels from 1993 onward were designed by Theresa Whitehill at Colored Horse Studios, with the Frey name penned by Papa Frey [and modified by local artist Catherine Woskow], and printed by [local print shop] Mendo Litho. From the top down, the “Organic Wine” illustration was done by Catherine Woscow, the “Biodynamic Wine” illustration by Kate Gould, the “Dessertage Wine” illustration by [Frey in-law Andy Power], the “Natural Rosé” illustration by [local artist] Jan Hoyman [of Hoyman-Browe Studios], and the “Pacific Redwood Red Wine” illustration by Andy Power. [The bottom three original labels were designed by winemaker Paul Frey]."
[Hand hoes used by Frey Family] HAND HOES
Metal, wood, Circa 1980
"Made by members of the Frey family out of local wood and scrap metal, one of these planting hoes’ custom handles is fashioned for a right-handed user and the other is made to fit a left-handed user."
GRAPE STAKE POUNDER
Metal, Circa 1980
"This pounder, made by members of the Frey family, has had extra weight added to its head to better help when driving grape vine stakes into the ground."
GOURD WITH GRAIN
"This grain was recently grown by the Freys as a cover crop, interspersed among the rows of grapes in their [Redwood Valley] vineyards. Three Anderson Valley farmers – Sophia Bates, Doug Mosel and John Gramke – have spearheaded efforts to reintroduce grain production into Mendocino County. The Frey family is participating in this project. The grain thus grown is distributed locally through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares."
EARTHENWARE WINE JUG
Ceramic, Circa 2003
"Paul Frey, head winemaker, commissioned this jug from Ukiah's Hoyman-Browe Studio. The jug's design harkens back to the Classical Greek and Roman eras when similar vessels called amphoras were used for transporting and storing such commodities as wine, olive oil and garum, (a fermented fish sauce). It is used in an experimental wine aging program at Frey Vineyards."
Tomato Sauce, Pickles, Vinegar, Pears
"Frey family members enjoy gardening and grow much of their own organic fruit and vegetables. They pickle and preserve this produce for later use."
"This prestigious “Sustie" (or Steward of Sustainable Agriculture) Award has been nicknamed the “Gourd Award.” It was presented to Frey Vineyards in 1997 at the 17th annual Eco Farm Conference in Monterey, California."
[Frey Vineyards plate made by local artist] PLATE
Sierra Nevada Clay
"Local potter Jan Hoyman made this plate in a studio at Frey Vineyards."
"One of the many awards won by Frey Vineyards wine."
After a near perfect growing season for the second year in a row, the 2013 grape harvest began fast, furious and early. The first grapes came through the crush pad on August 27th, about 2-3 weeks earlier than usual. Then an exceptionally warm and dry autumn stretched the harvest out for 10 weeks until the final load of grapes came in on November 4th! The first and last grapes to pass through the crusher this year were Chardonnay, often the first varietal to be wrapped up. In 33 years of winemaking at Frey Vineyards this has never happened! Every year is different and 2013 was no exception.
Derek, Andy & Adam, organic grape harvest, 2013!
Although we had our average of around 50 inches of rain this year, it fell in an abnormal pattern. December 2012 gave us some near flooding rainfall to contend with and we were anticipating a typically wet January 2013 as well, but it barely rained. Next came February, then March, then April, then May. With less than 6 inches of rainfall going into June we were expecting a California drought-like summer, and that is exactly what we got. Wild weather events included a little storm in June, a thundershower on 4th of July after seven days of 100+ degree weather, no rain in August, and an unusually wet storm at the end of September.
Not only was 2013 much drier than usual, it was quite a bit hotter as well. We saw numerous April days in the 90’s. May was next to normal aside from a rogue frosty night on the 28th that nipped the tender flower clusters in some Syrah and Merlot vineyards. June had six days that broke 100 degrees plus another eight days in the 90’s. The dry, windy 111 degree day on Saturday the 8th of June was especially devastating for our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The delicate grape flowers were just beginning to set berries, and in some fields we actually watched them falling off in the breeze. The fruit simply got cooked in the heat.
After surviving 17 days between 100 and 112 degrees in July the vines enjoyed a relatively mellow August in Redwood Valley. With all the stress associated with the dry heat we began to see veraison (grape color change) in mid-July as opposed to early August. We had to kick it into high gear to prepare for an early and potentially fast-paced harvest. We had just completed installing irrigation and planting almost 16 acres of new vines in three different fields when harvest began with a bang!
The first weeks in August were full of activity. We harvested white grapes in the wee hours of the morning to bring them in cold for optimal whole cluster pressing. We spent time working out the mechanical kinks in the equipment and started the process of visiting vineyards to test sugars and acids and lay out the harvest schedule. Everything seemed to be happening at once, but then the weather shifted.
Despite two wet storms in September, October provided near perfect fall ripening conditions. We let our red grapes hang until they were fully physiologically ripe, perfect for organic, low intervention winemaking. With the good weather the sense of urgency lessened and we had one of our longest harvest seasons. It started early and stretched into a slow, lingering finish after 69 days. The wines are still young but are tasting great! We look forward to a great vintage with outstanding quality. Get ready for some delicious 2013 wines. Cheers!