Ken Brown, winemaker and former proprietor at Byron Winery in Santa Barbara County's chilly Santa Maria Valley, shares the early results of a new venture with Robert Mondavi Winery, now the owners of Byron. The new venture is Io Winery, dedicated to producing a single Rhone blend each year, much like Opus One produces a single Bordeaux blend. Brown poured barrel samples of the wines that are components of the 1998 Io. The first sample, grown on Byron's vineyard, was rich, intensely colored and redolent of freshly crushed berries and blueberry syrup--no one guessed that it was Grenache, normally a lighter varietal. The second sample, also grown at Byron, turned out to be Mourvedre, thick with meaty, smoky flavors.
Three other samples were Syrah wines produced identically, except for the yeast selection. The first sample, made with grapes from the warmer Santa Ynez Valley, exhibited the red fruit and leaner body associated with warmer growing areas, while the second and third Syrahs were from Byron's chilly vineyards. Inoculated with a Rhone yeast, the second Syrah was intensely fruit forward with abundant blackberry, cassis and plum. In contrast, the third Syrah was fermented by native yeasts and showed earthy and coffee flavors.
The final sample contained the master blend for the 1998 Io, and it exhibited the best qualities of each of the components, achieving balance between thick, concentrated fruit and delicacy. Io's first wine, approximately 2,000 cases of the 1996 vintage, will be released in September.
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