Syrah is the butt of jokes among California wine salesmen; i.e.: “What’s the difference between a case of Syrah and a case of the crabs? The crabs go away.”
The question for those of us who love Syrah is “why?” Why hasn’t Syrah been embraced by Americans? Many of us have thrown out theories.
But there’s a really simple answer that I discovered after visiting a sparsely attended Rhône Rangers event in San Francisco, at which I had a conversation with Patrick Comiskey, author of the book “American Rhône”. Comiskey talked about how much Syrah was planted when it was considered the Next Big Thing. And in fact, the numbers are compelling. In 1995, Syrah was the 24th most planted grape in California, with just 1331 total acres, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. By the year 2000, California had nearly 10 times as much Syrah as in 1995: 12,699 acres. Three counties – Madera, San Joaquin and San Luis Obispo (home of Paso Robles) – each had more Syrah on their own than the whole state had in 1995. Madera and San Joaquin are in the hot central valley; Paso Robles is the state’s warmest fine wine region. And the planting continued.