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Uncorked: Cool climate is just right for Syrah

Bennett Valley was the where Scott MacFiggen and Regina Bustamante started their wine careers.

It was one ton of Syrah grape from Bennett Valley that planted the seeds that would see the husband-and-wife duo exit their careers in the tech industry and found Sosie Wines. 

“I found a place to make it and it was fun side project,” MacFiggen said. “We enjoyed it immensely and it pushed us over the edge.” 

Winemaker spotlight 

What the Bennett Valley AVA lacks in size it makes up for in picturesque landscapes and high-quality wines begging to be discovered. It’s a northwest to southeast trending valley in Sonoma, Calif. Filled with rolling knolls, oak trees, green pastoral land, meandering streams and the shadow of Taylor Mountain, its terrain makes for stunning postcards.

But, it’s the wines that come from the lesser-known pocket of land that are worth seeking. 

“Bennett Valley is a hidden gem for winemakers,” MacFiggen said. “Looking on a map, you’d think it might be a hot site, but it gets a lot of marine influence. All the fog from Petaluma Gap parks itself in Bennett Valley. 

“So, it’s a nice, cool site. Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir are the star grapes there. We love it because our style is noninterventionist. We want grapes with lower sugars and that helps native fermentation. It gives us more of the French style where there are more acids on the grapes. We do have really long hang times and that site is always the last one picked.”

The Sosie, Vivio Vineyard, Bennett Valley Syrah 2016 ($38) rings out as a blue fruit, meaty, floral and elegant cool-climate version of the varietal.

When given an extended hang time and a cooler climate in which to grow, Syrah goes deep on its flavors and Sosie taps into blueberry, plum and charcuterie. 

“We think in a cool climate, Syrah really shows its nuances,” Bustamante said.  

However, it’s not alone in the bottle. 

Although wines from France’s Côte Rôtie allow for as much as 20% Viognier to be co-fermented in the final wine, the Sosie style instead co-fermented 7% Roussanne. The Rhone varietal has been bottled as a standalone white known for its floral notes and high acidity and is frequently paired with Marsanne and/or Grenache Blanc.

Here it is an aromatic lift, a floral edge and another acidic presence that adds a freshness to the wine. 

The co-fermentation leaves little room for error as it locks in a rather specific flavor profile that’s hard to change post-fermentation. With whole cluster fermentation – 25% of the blend included the stems in 2016 – the wine has an additional layer and furthers the couple’s push toward noninterventionist winemaking and highlights the maximization of all the vineyard has to offer. 

“We are experimenting how much whole cluster to leave in,” Bustamante said. “In 2016, it was 25% whole cluster, in 2017 it was 40% and in 2018 it was 100% whole cluster. We think it tastes great, but haven’t bottled yet.” 

Sosie already is an excellent Syrah; the new vintages can’t arrive soon enough.

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at​

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