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    from 2025
  • Food Pairing

    Rabbit casseroles with a fruity element

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William Kelley, Wine Advocate May 2018
Rating: (95-97)
Drink: NA

The 2016 James Berry Vineyard Proprietary Red is beautiful, reflecting this vintage's synergy with Grenache, wafting from the glass with notes of wild cherries, kirsch, spring flowers and licorice. On the palate, it's full-bodied, rich and firm, with a deep core and chewy, stony structure that is going to demand some patience. The finish is juicy and mouthwatering. The 2016 is a blend of 55% Grenache, 24% Mataro, 13% Syrah and 8% Counoise, and it's maturing in 61% new puncheons, 26% amphorae and the balance in used wood.

Success sometimes breeds complacency, but that's emphatically not the case for Justin Smith, whose status as Paso Roble's most celebrated winemaker has done nothing to dim his urge to experiment, evolve and improve. Without sacrificing any of their power and authority, both of which come easily in this warm climate, Smith's Saxum wines continue to gain in structural refinement, energy, integration and incipient complexity with every passing vintage. Since the end of the last decade, Smith has been experimenting with whole cluster, a technique he tends to employ in cooler sites and vintages, since extracting excessive stem tannins is a danger in riper, warmer years. Fermentations are cooler and slower, which helps to manage extraction. While new oak was once an important influence in the Saxum wines, its presence is more and more subtle: Smith now works with puncheons instead of smaller barrels, and they're complemented by amphorae and foudres. Since 2010, he has employed Roussanne for co-fermentations with Syrah in the place of Viognier, since it brings less additional power and alcohol. He also continues to refine and adapt his blends from year to year. Smith's new cellar now means he has the space necessary to mature wines for longer. Today's Saxum wines are accordingly better than ever. The only problem is finding them: I signed up for the mailing list in 2011, and Smith informs me that the current wait is around eight years.


The Story

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 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. Our wines are never racked off their lees and are bottled unfined and unfiltered.


Wine Information

The 2016 James Berry Vineyard is insane. I kind of feel like that is all I need to say, but I’ll go on. Whenever I pulled a sample from the barrel and gave it to someone to taste, I would see their eyes light up and they would always ask, what’s THIS?? Yes, it’s that type of wine. Soaring aromatics of cherries and California sage, a beautiful, lush mouthfeel of red and black fruits, and a finish that is perhaps 3 miles long consisting of baking spice and fennel (maybe even 4 miles, it’s hard to say for sure). Fresh and lively, yet rich and pleasurable, it’s the ultimate combo.

The 2016 vintage is one of the finest, if not THE finest vintage to come around in our 17 years of Saxum. (Isn’t it always true that the current vintage is the best ever?) What happened to
make the 2016 wines so nice you ask? Well, what stands out to me is how even keeled the whole season was. It was a drought busting rainy winter, followed by a nice warm spring. The spring had minimal frost which in turn provided a good set of fruit and gave us the option to thin the fruit down to just the perfect clusters. To top it all off, a moderately warm, but not too hot, summer season allowed the fruit to reach optimal ripeness and retain great natural acidities. The 2016s are definitely a tad darker and denser than the 2015s. I love the 2015s for their beauty, and I love the 2016s for their pleasure. They impress with their balance, walking that razor’s edge of having density and richness while still possessing depth, complexity, and mystery. Yes, I really love how many hidden layers the wines have, and how the layers are slowly revealed as you get to know the wines better throughout an evening. Maybe like a well written book that takes you ever deeper into it’s world, slowly revealing it’s true heart.


Vintage 2016

A near-perfect growing season

The near-perfect 2016 growing season started early, saw ideal weather conditions throughout and wrapped up as the valley's first significant fall rainstorm arrived on October 14. Thanks to a relatively steady and mild July and August and then a series of warm days at the end of the growing season, vineyards were able to progress to perfect ripeness. Wines from the 2016 vintage are now quietly developing in cellars throughout Napa Valley and vintners are pinching themselves and smiling for the gift it appears Mother Nature has given them: a fifth consecutive vintage of stellar quality Napa Valley wines.




Paso Robles, California
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