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In 1997, Justin Smith and Matt Trevisan started Linne Calodo Cellars in Paso Robles, sharing a conviction that Rhône varieties had a tremendous future in their region. Using grapes primarily from the James Berry Vineyard, owned by Smith's father, the college buddies built a following for their small brand, and their success coincided with burgeoning interest in Rhône-style wines -- especially Syrah -- from throughout California's Central Coast.
Seven years later, the future is brighter than ever for Paso Robles Rhône-style wines. But in January 2002, the partners parted company. Smith, now 33, began his own brand, Saxum, while Trevisan, 31, retained the rights to the Linne Calodo label. Despite the common ground, their personalities and interests didn't mesh. Smith is affable and easygoing, and although he oversaw the vineyard work, he wanted to do more in the cellar. Trevisan, who comes across as guarded, focused on the winemaking, but longed for a larger say in the viticulture.
Smith continues to make wines from the 65-acre James Berry Vineyard, a proven source of quality grapes. The prime hilltop parcel, called Bone Rock, is the standout, yielding wines of superior intensity and concentration. The 2000 and 2001 Saxum Syrah James Berry Vineyard Bone Rock ($48 and $50, respectively) each earned 93 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale, and have structure that will stand up to several years of cellaring.
Smith, who completed a small winery just in time for the 2003 harvest, expects to make a total of about 1,400 cases from the vintage. Nearly one-third of that will be the Bone Rock Syrah, with the balance blends of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre made from different parcels of James Berry and other western Paso Robles vineyards managed by Smith, who doubles as one of the region's most sought-after consultants.
The winery's capacity is only 1,500 cases. "Saxum doesn't really make us money. The consulting is what really floats the boat," says Smith, who lives at James Berry with his wife, Heather, and their two children.
Trevisan also wants to stay fairly small. About one-third of his 75-acre western Paso Robles property will someday be planted with vines. This year he'll start with 5 acres, mostly Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, but he's also considering Counoise (a component of Châteauneuf-du-Pape) and a dollop of white Rhône varieties, such as Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.
Patience should minimize errors, and Trevisan expects it could take 20 years before the entire vineyard is in production, with an expected output of approximately 2,700 cases. After making only 800 cases in 2001, Trevisan, like Smith, isn't in the black. "[But] I bought AOL [stock] in 1996," he explains.
The 2001 Linne Calodo Sticks & Stones Paso Robles (91 points, $60) is a mammoth Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend, made with grapes from four vineyards. The 2001 Linne Calodo Syrah Paso Robles Nemesis (94, $60) is even more impressive, featuring enormous concentration and firm structure.
Until his vineyard yields a substantive crop, Trevisan must buy grapes. Some (he was evasive about how much) of the fruit for the Nemesis and Sticks & Stones came from the James Berry Vineyard, to which he no longer has access. But the plan is to make an assortment of bottlings in quantities of between 50 and 250 cases.
Even after a taste of early success, both Smith and Trevisan expect the next decade to be every bit as instructive as the last. "It wouldn't be winemaking if it worked all the time," says Trevisan.
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