Stolpman Vineyards: Syrah and Roussanne from limestone soils in California

Pete Stolpman

Pete Stolpman

Website: Stolpman Vineyards

Back in the 1970s, Tom Stolpman, who was then in his late teens, was running a valet car parking service in the Hollywood Hills to help him through his studies at UCLA. This is when he caught the wine bug. He got married, and took his wife Marilyn to Napa for a honeymoon in 1974. Stolpman went on to become a lawyer (he still practices), but by the time he decided he’d really like a vineyard in the late 1980s, Napa had become overvalued, so he started looking at the central coast. Inspired by Josh Jensen and his obsession with limestone, Stolpman decided that he wanted to find potential vineyard land with some limestone.

He found a site. There were big limestone boulders on the surface, and he found that under the loamy clay top soil, this was just pure limestone: potentially a perfect site. But along came the Perrins, who were also looking for limestone, and they spilled the beans to the cattle rancher who owned the site that this was ideal vineyard land. The cattle rancher tried to get a bidding war started. Stolpman’s bravado, however, scared off the Perrins who went and discovered what is now Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. This all delayed things by a couple of years, but Stolpman eventually got the land he wanted in 1990. This is Ballard Canyon, and back then there were no other vineyards here. It’s a 220 acre property, with 153 acres of vines.

stolpman vineyards

Since 2013, Ballard Canyon has been an AVA, and there are now 17 vineyards here. It’s a 7000 acre AVA with 550 acres planted, and it’s a sub AVA of Santa Ynez Valley, which is 70 000 acres. Syrah is the main grape variety planted.

The climate here is that the day starts off with cool fogs, then gets warm in the afternoon. There’s a huge diurnal shift of 40 F in the growing season. The distinctive thing about this vineyard is that it is dry grown. The vines are irrigated for the first five years, and then weaned off. They reach a natural balance and produce small crops of high quality grapes. The clay in the soil is critical in making dry farming possible in such a dry region.

Peter Stolpman, Tom’s son, took over here in 2009. Until then the majority of the grapes had been sold, but since then production of the Stolpman wines has risen three-fold from 5000 to 15 000 cases. The wines are made by Sashi Moorman, of Domaine de la Côte, Sandhi and Evening Land. Sashi has been on board since 2001 when Tom hired him – at the time he was just 27 and was the assistant winemaker for Adam Tolmach. Another very important figure here is vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, who has been here since 1994 and lives on the property. Peter is proud of the fact that everyone who works on the vineyard is employed full time.

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THE WINES

Stolpman Roussanne 2013 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
15-18 months in 500 litre new oak puncheons. This is a late ripening variety that’s picked in late October or early November. It’s rich but still has freshness with bold, spicy flavours of pear and peach along with some toast and nut characters. It’s quite oily and there’s some new wood evident, but also some freshness. 92/100

Stolpman L’Avion Roussanne 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
This is a cherry-picked selection of the Roussanne. Highly aromatic showing rich, nuanced aromas of pear, peach and spice. The palate is rich but has fine notes of melon and pear. Very stylish and pure with lovely depth. Fine, showing nice focus and weight. 94/100

Stolpman Carbonic Sangiovese 2014 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Picked early, carbonic maceration. Pale cherry red colour. Fresh and juicy with lovely red cherries and plums. Juicy, pure and drinkable. So pretty with a bit of grip. 92/100

Stolpman Syrah Para Maria de los Fecobles 2014 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Fresh, meaty and a bit spicy with ripe, generous, sweet black fruits. It has a fresh grainy, peppery structure. Lovely juicy sweet black fruits here. Generous, ripe and structured. 92/100

Stolpman Syrah 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
50% whole bunch, aged in concrete. Floral and enticing with red and black cherries plus notes of mint and medicine. Vivid, peppery undertones here. Spicy and vivid with nice grip and real freshness to the ripe fruit. A very precise wine. 94/100

Stolpman Originals Syrah 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Powerfully perfumed with a nose of pepper, spice, dried herbs and meat. Generous black cherry fruit on the palate along with spice. Sweetly fruited but with a grainy, chalky structure and real finesse. This has lovely focus and freshness. 95/100

UK agent Flint Wines

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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