Saxum Vineyards – Organic

Saxum Vineyards is focused on producing Grenache, Syrah, and Mataro-based blends from the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles, and was founded by Justin Smith and his wife Heather in 2002. Their winery is located in the James Berry vineyard which was planted by Justin’s father, James Berry Smith, in the 1980s.  Justin has played a massive part in making Paso Robles one of California’s most dynamic and exciting regions, and is cited as a major influence by a generation of winemakers.

His father bought a 55-acre parcel and set about planting the white varietals that were popular in the area at the time. He was advised by a friend to replant with Rhone varietals in 1990, and went about taking out the whites to put in Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah. The very early wines showed great promise!

Justin had never intended to follow in his father’s footsteps as a vintner, studying ethnobiology at university (where he met his future wife!). After graduating, Justin and his college buddy Matt Trevisan pooled their resources to start their own wine label – Linne Calodo. Matt gained experience working with some established wineries, while Justin learned to farm the family vineyard which became an important source of fruit for Linne Calodo.

Having made a name for themselves at Linne Calodo, Justin decided to part from Matt to start his own project – Saxum Vineyards. He had been inspired by two bottles of great Syrah – Penfold’s Grange 1990 and Jaboulet La Chapelle 1990. He began by trying to emulate them, but quickly saw that Paso needed a different approach, and by the mid-2000s he was starting to make serious waves among critics and collectors.

Texture is really what makes Saxum stand out. “It is something that I have always been aware of as a winemaker, but where it comes from is still somewhat a mystery,” he explains. “My best guess is that it’s about the tannin-having smooth, silky tannins, with weight to them. So it’s coming from the seeds being ripe, the skins being ripe, and pulling those tannins into solution. The trickiest part is keeping them. It is very easy to lose them with pumping, racking, filtering, etc. So we try and not do anything that could strip those tannins out.”

James Berry Red Wine 2012  

98 points James Suckling Absolutely brilliant, the 2012 James Berry Vineyard is just now at the early stages of maturity and reveals a healthy ruby hue as well as stunning aromatics of red and black raspberries, wildflowers, herbes de Provence, candied orange, and white pepper. Full-bodied and powerful, it’s nevertheless perfectly balanced and as seamless as they come, with silky tannins and a great finish. This is heavenly juice all the way and can be drunk any time over the coming decade. The blend is 43% Grenache, 29% Mourvèdre, 18% Syrah, and 10% Counoise brought up in a mix of small barrels and concrete tanks. 

97 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: There are 1,580 cases of the 2012 James Berry Vineyard and it reminds me of the 2009 Janasse Chaupin (which is one of Justin’s favorite wines). Incorporating more Mourvèdre than normal, it’s made from 43% Grenache, 29% Mourvèdre, 18% Syrah and 10% Counoise that’s aged in a combination of concrete and barrel. Rock star stuff, with fabulous black raspberry, cassis, spring flowers and charred meat aromas and flavors, this beauty hits the palate with full-bodied richness and depth, yet stays lively, incredibly pure and elegant, with lots of fine tannin emerging on the finish. 

94 points Vinous The 2012 James Berry Vineyard stands out for its textural finesse, sweetness and overall balance. Sweet spices, red berries and flowers all meld together in a decidedly silky James Berry. The 2012 is 42% Grenache, 29% Mourvèdre, 18% Syrah and 10% Counoise. More expressive today on the palate than in its aromatics, the 2012 remains a baby. 

Paderewski Red 2012  

96 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate  Surprisingly tannic and structured for a wine that’s normally the most approachable and sexy, the 2012 Paderewski Vineyard checks in as a blend of 45% Zinfandel, 36% Mourvedre, 12% Tempranillo, and 7% Petite Sirah. It possesses the classic chalky minerality of the vineyard to go with exotic perfumed notes of black raspberry, plums, brambly underbrush, and assorted background meatiness. This all flows to a full-bodied, elegant and polished wine that has solid mid-palate depth and chewy, firm tannin on the finish. 

93 points Wine Spectator  Bold and richly structured, this wine shows plenty of personality. Huckleberry, smoky mocha, and herb aromas lead to deep, ripe flavors of savory plum, black licorice, and mineral. The tannins build power on the finish.

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