Wine Star: John Alban

A trailblazing Rhône Ranger embraces singularity in California's Central Coast
Wine Star: John Alban
John Alban and his Edna Valley Syrah brought Central Coast style to the Wine Experience. (Deepix Studio)
Oct 25, 2017

“Unabashedly Californian” is one way Tim Fish has described John Alban’s Syrah Edna Valley Reva Alban Estate. The story of Alban’s rise as a pioneer of the Rhône Ranger movement could be characterized that way too.

Nicknamed "Johnny Appleseed" for his nursery business selling cuttings of Rhône varieties to California winemakers during the 1980s, Alban began making wine in 1991 on a 300-acre property in the Central Coast’s Edna Valley—an area that, Fish noted in his introduction to Wine Experience attendees, “is known for growing vegetables more than grapevines.”

“That really liberated us," Alban explained. "There were no Rhône varieties planted in the Edna Valley when I got there. That meant we could do whatever we wanted, because there was no prejudice.”

The cornerstone of Alban’s house style, he said, is concentration. His high-elevation vineyards, with chalk and limestone soils, grow sparse clusters of small berries. Cool Pacific breezes not only lengthen the growing season but freely circulate the loosely packed grapes, boosting their phenolic compounds for greater texture, color and flavor. Picked at night, the grapes develop generous esters for a fruitier result.

To demonstrate, Alban poured his 2013 Syrah Edna Valley Reva Alban Estate (94 points, $98), two weeks shy of its release after more than three and a half years in barrel for polish and layering—normal for Alban, but quite long by most standards. “This wine is never shy or dainty,” he said, “but you may be more surprised by its grace than its girth.”

The tasting highlighted Alban’s brand of pioneering California individualism. “Some people say our wines are extreme,” he reflected. “I like that.”

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