Founder of Cristom Vineyards, Paul Gerrie, made the decision to pioneer Syrah in the Willamette Valley by grafting over plantings of Chardonnay on the lower slopes of our estate. In 2002, the classic varietal was grafted over Chardonnay vines originally planted in 1993 on two devigorating American rootstocks. We carefully selected the block of vines to graft over, choosing a site lying low on the hillside where heat accumulation is at its highest on the estate, giving Syrah the best opportunity to ripen in a moderate maritime climate.
In 2002, 2.5 acres (1.01 hectares) of Chardonnay were grafted over to four clones of Syrah. After cool growing seasons in 2007, 2008 and 2010, Cristom made the decision to graft half of the estate Syrah over to Viognier in 2011. All that remains is 0.31 acres (0.125 hectares) of each of the four clones totaling 1.24 acres (0.50 hectares).
We produce an extremely limited quantity of this wine each year making it one that you will want to try to obtain upon release. The Cristom Estate Syrah wines are defined by spice, balance, perfume, texture and nuance, and they can gain complexity in the bottle for a decade or more.
The four clones of Syrah selected – 174, 383, 470, 877 – were chosen primarily for their recognized heritage of producing small berries, encouraging our chances to ripen Syrah in the Willamette Valley.
Clones & Rootstocks
Planted on one of the lowest slopes on the estate (270ft to 310ft /82m to 95m) and entirely in Missoula Flood Sediments, the grafted vines produced their first fruit in 2003. The Missoula Flood silts are very deep soils lying over very old basalt paleosol, and are very well drained and can be some of the most vigorous soils on the estate. The entire block is planted in a nutrient-rich Willamette Silt, named Woodburn. Woodburn soils series are young silts left behind from the floods caused by ancient Lake Missoula at end of the last Ice Age around 15,000 to 13,000 years ago. Vines can be vigorous in these rich soils and we work hard to manage the canopy and use cover crops to slow the vegetative growth and direct the vines’ energy into the fruit. Because of the rich and silty soil, vines are planted here at the lowest density on the estate of 1,210 vines/acre (2,990/ha) to allow each vine to have more space, spread out and create a larger canopy. By leaving more space for us to leave more shoots for each vine, gives a place for the vines’ vigor to be released so that each shoot produces optimal fruit.
Classic Syrah aromas of white pepper, spice, plums, leather, bacon fat and the slightest touch of tobacco leaf, along with a generous amount of dark black and blue fruits.
The maritime climate at Cristom Vineyards has moderately warm days and especially cool nights, allowing the vines to retain acidity and produce intense and fragrant aromas and flavors. The estate Syrah is planted on the lower slopes of our site and is significantly impacted by the cool Pacific Ocean breezes that flow through the Van Duzer Corridor. The corridor allows cool marine breezes to flow east into the Willamette Valley and moderates high summer temperatures, cools the vines, and moves air through the canopy to reduce disease pressure. This cool ocean air results in lower average temperatures at night than the northern Willamette Valley, and helps us to maintain good natural acid structure in the wines. Still impacted by the winds, the estate Syrah is partially protected by a tree-line that separates the lower and upper hillsides on the estate.
Due to our altitude and location on the 45th parallel, there is a high diurnal temperature variation at our estate – meaning that there is a significant difference (often 35 degrees or more) between the daytime high and nighttime lowest temperature during the growing season. This significant temperature shift helps to preserve natural acids in the grapes by allowing the vine to shut down at night, slowing the ripening process, often resulting in more hang-time on the vine and later picking dates. While the climate is optimal for Pinot Noir, the estate Syrah can struggle to ripen in the coolest Willamette Valley growing seasons.