This place ROCKS.
”The most distinctive AVA in the United States...making some of the greatest wines in America.” -Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator
“This incredible terroir produces an exotic, perfumed, and textured style of wine that’s one of the most unique–and identifiable–in the world.” -Jeb Dunnuck
They are talking about Walla Walla's Rocks District, where I recently spent an intense and intensive couple days kicking around cobblestones. Really. Walla Walla’s most famous growing district and set of vineyards, “The Rocks” is a special, small (only 472 acres planted in 2021!) swath of earth–the only growing area in the country whose boundaries have been fixed by virtue of a single soil series (Freewater Series) and a single land form (alluvial fan).
In addition to some of the household-name Rocks properties (see below), I visited SJR Vineyard, a fabulous and more under-the-radar 13-acre parcel planted in 2007, lovingly tended by the Robertson family: founders Mary and Steve and their daughter Brooke, who charts the course forward. With winemaking help from Master of Wine Billo Naravane (who you may recognize from his Rasa wines), the Robertsons release a few hundred cases a year of distinct and exceptional Syrah. We’re excited for our first feature of Delmas SJR Vineyard Syrah, from the fabulous 2018 vintage!
$69.95 in any 12 bottle or Build a Case order ($76.95 regular)
Us: Tasted twice recently, it shows a gorgeous, supple and rich texture and a melange of fascinating aromas and flavors–sometimes you smell them, sometimes you taste them. I find plenty of agreement with the two reviews below in what each critic describes–all shades of berries, kirsch, quality bacon, truffle, cured olive, flowers, five-spice powder, and the classic Rocks salinity are what I found mesmerizing. That each review includes finesse is spot on; this is an undoubtedly broad-shouldered and generous wine which remains graceful and never heavy-handed. Welcome to Rocks Syrah as conceived through SJR Vineyard–I think you’re in for a thrill. -Marcus
96 point Jeb Dunnuck: "A perfumed, incredibly complex bouquet of framboise, wild strawberries, olive tapenade, spring flowers, and spiced game. Finesse-driven, medium to full-bodied, and seamless on the palate, it has wonderful purity of fruit, ripe, polished tannins, and a great finish. This is another beautiful, singular wine from this estate that can be drunk today or cellared for 15 years or so."
96 points Decanter: "A silky smooth effort. Layers of pretty red fruits greet you, with shades of rose water, umami, bulls blood beetroot, white truffle shaving and Mandarin orange rind flavors, with plenty of finesse."
And while we're in The Rocks, shouldn't we acknowledge the vigneron responsible for putting this now world-famous growing area on wine lovers' maps? Yes we should.
$159.95 in any 12 bottle or Build a Case order ($179.95 regular)
Within the Cayuse family of vineyards and wines, Horsepower's name is truly self-explanatory: two draft horses do the heavy work in this incredibly densely planted site (see below–there's just enough room between the rows for Red and Zeppo). How dense? 3-4 times as many vines per acre. The high density translates to tension, energy, and texture, evident when I tasted several wines from Cayuse, No Girls, and Horsepower. You'll still find the savory Syrah that Rocks wines and Cayuse are famous for. A fascinating wine, we also have a tiny (tiny) amount of Horsepower Grenache, for those who ask nicely. -Marcus
97 points Jeb Dunnuck, 96 points each James Suckling and The Wine Advocate.
From Horsepower: "The self-nourishing interrelationship of earth, plants and animals has been central to vigneron Christophe Baron’s farming philosophy ever since he pioneered biodynamic farming in the Walla Walla Valley in 2002.
Like Cayuse Vineyards, Horsepower is farmed according to an astrological sowing and planting calendar, and entirely without the use of herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, chemical insecticides or fungicides.
Two draft horses, Red and Zeppo, cultivate vineyards ranging from 3,555 to 4,840 vines per acre with as little as 3' x 3' spacing—planted 1 vine per stake, or 'sur echalas' in French."