2013 Wind Gap Nellessen Vineyard Syrah


Taking its name from those gaps in the coastal mountains through which fogs billow and bring a chill to the California sun, Wind Gap produces Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, exclusively from cool sites. Pax Mahle, the sommelier-turned-winemaker in charge of Wind Gap Winery, underwent a conversion of sorts when some barrels of Syrah from a particular vineyard site in a cooler vintage produced wine far more  alluring, fresh and energetic than the other wines he was making at the time. Although the wines from his Pax Winery sold out to critical acclaim, they could be overwhelming, with alcohol levels as high as 16%. Making up his mind to focus on making wines from cooler sites, he started Wind Gap, thereby staking a claim as a producer of “new California” wine in the process. New California refers to a style of wine growing that emphasizes food-friendly balance, elegance and subtlety as opposed to the overripe, highly extracted and oaked style common among many high-end California wines. Sourcing grapes from vineyards in the Petaluma Gap as well as other cool sites along the California coast, Wind Gap works closely with growers, farming carefully to keep yields so low that enzymes, chemical or water additions and even the sorting table are unnecessary. In the winery, the approach is equally measured and hands off. The fruit is handled gently, often crushing by foot and punching down or pumping over as little as possible. The wines are fermented in stainless steel or cement tanks on native yeasts and then aged in neutral oak. The reds tend to be fermented with a high inclusion of whole clusters, which makes for more authentic, elegant wine, by moderating the intensity of the fruit and adding more alluring aromas. Don’t look for power, concentration and richness in Wind Gap wines; instead, appreciate the subtle flavors and vibrant aromas of earth and fruit, and the backbone and structure that will keep these wines evolving for years. 


Wind Gap’s Nellessen Syrah epitomizes the new direction this grape is taking in California. Whereas a typical California Syrah used to come from a warmer AVA and was made in big, syrupy, high-octane style (like Aussie Shiraz or Zinfandel), the action has now moved toward the coast and cooler sites. Wind Gap makes Syrah much like it does Pinot Noir: by sourcing grapes from a windy vineyard with poor soils, using whole bunch fermentation on native yeasts, and by aging in neutral oak. The results are stunning. The wine is only 11.9% in alcohol and pale in color but intensely aromatic, bright and lively; the effusive aromas of fruits, berries and black pepper bring many greats of the Northern Rhone to mind. 


100% whole clusters were fermented in concrete and then aged in concrete for 4 more months after pressing before being transferred to neutral French oak for 12 months. 

Tasting notes

Bright aromas of red plums, fresh blueberries and savory spices pour from the glass leading to a nervy palate of red berry fruit and a long finish of soft tannins and black pepper spice. The texture is exciting with sensations of lightness and concentration in equal measure.


Sonoma Coast