- Producer: Saxum Vineyards - read about the Estate
- Winemaker: Justin Smith
- Region (AVA): Paso Robles (Willow Creek District)
- Blend: 55% Grenache Blanc, 32% Roussanne, 8% Chenin Blanc, 5% Petit Manseng
- Vintage production: 312 cases
- Winery location: Willow Creek
- First vintage: 2017
- Drinking window: 2020-2030
About The Wine:
The James Berry Vineyard is the Smith family’s estate vineyard. It is located 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean with an average elevation of 1200 feet. It consists of a series of slopes with shallow clay loam topsoil covering an ancient seabed, complete with fossilized shells and sharks teeth. The cuvee is a red fruit driven, Grenache based blend, with a large portion of Mataro for texture, and Syrah as spicy support. The James Berry Vineyard blend is aged for 18-20 months in a variety of vessels. The Grenache portion ages in concrete tank and larger puncheons, while the Mataro and Syrah ages in the smaller French barrels. A high percentage of them are new. The wine is rich and layered. Raspberries and blackberries lead the way followed by Provincial herbs and smooth dense tannins. The wines are never racked off their lees and are bottled unfined and unfiltered.
NOTES FROM JUSTIN: The James Berry White. This wine was a long time coming! I’ve been wanting to make a white for many years, but wanted to make it perfect, and I knew in the old Saxum facility we didn’t have the space or right equipment to do our fruit justice. We have had Roussanne planted here since 1997, but I wanted to bring in some extra brightness that Roussanne can often lack, so I planted some Grenache Blanc on an East facing section of the Rocket Block hill. My hunch paid off, and the combo of the rich waxy Roussanne is cut and lifted with some bright citrusy Grenache Blanc. We wanted this wine to have some structure and age ability like a classic White Burgundy, but with a California twist. We pressed straight to barrels, a combination of 320L hogsheads and 600L demi-muids, all new French except one used 600L (from Dageuneau no less!). The juice was barrel fermented and left on its lees with occasional lees stirring for the entire 20 months. This wine did not see any SO2 until it was racked to tank for bottling, unfined and unfiltered of course. What emerged is a seriously structured yet complexly aromatic white. More flint and mineral on the nose than you might expect from a California white, but the mouthfeel is rich and focused at the same time. I’m quite happy with it. Like Saxum reds, it will greatly benefit a couple years of aging, more if you have the patience.
During the 2017 growing season California was served an impressive heat wave that arrived at the wrong time, when the fruit was getting close, but definitely not there yet. We were faced with two options. Our first option was to pick the fruit that was starting to shrivel from the heat. Fruit with numbers saying the sugars were getting too high, acids were too strong, and tannins were too green. The second option was to let it ride. However, you can’t predict the weather and could potentially loose the whole crop. A huge gamble. Well, we rolled the dice and let everything hang. Then we proceeded to bite our nails and watch the weather. Eventually the heat stopped and we ended up losing a portion of our crop, maybe 15%, but the remaining 85% was awesome. We had to spend a lot of time on the sorting table removing the damaged portions of the clusters, but it was all worthwhile. The wines are delicious! The 2017s definitely have a riper aromatic than the 2016s, but I rather enjoy that. The tannins are incredibly soft and smooth, making them very open and approachable in their youth. I like to think that the 2016s will ultimately be the better wines, but for the first 5, maybe 8 years of their lives, the 2017s might bring more pleasure, and bringing pleasure is what this is all about!!!
Saxum Vineyards James Berry Vineyard White 2017
"Starting with the white from one of the unquestionably great estates in wine today, the 2017 James Berry Vineyard White offers a concentrated, richer style as well as classy notes of caramelized tangerines, toasted spice, orange blossom, and brioche. I love its texture and richness, and it’s beautifully balanced."
93 points, Jeb Dunnuck (Oct. 2019)