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Born to Rhône — Rhône-Style Wines Flourish in the Sierra Foothills

These days there’s a lot of talk about Rhône wines, the Rhône Rangers and the like in the wine and lifestyle press. In our continuing effort to demystify wine jargon, we offer our newsletter readers this brief explanation of the terms and their connection to Ophir Wines.

The growing popularity of Syrah-based wines from California producers has sparked an interest among wine buffs in the European wines and wine-growing regions that are the inspiration, and sometimes the source, of Rhône-style wines grown and made in nearly all the state’s wine regions. At Ophir Wines, our red and rosé wines are literally descended from the Rhône region of France.

The Rhône, or Cotes du Rhône, is a large and diverse wine growing region on both sides of the Rhône River, from Vienne (near Lyon) in the north, approximately to Avignon in the south. The region produces notable red, white and rosé wines, with red comprising over 80 percent. In the northern Rhône, the wines are made entirely or primarily from Syrah. In the south, Grenache is the mainstay, supported by Syrah and a host of lesser known varieties in a wide array of blends. In fact, under French viticulture (wine growing) law, 23 grape varieties are permitted in the region — more than in any other A.O.C., Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, the French system of prescribing what grapes can be grown in what region.

In California, then, the red and rosé wines we call Rhône or Rhône-style are made from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and sometimes Cinsault or other lesser-known grape varieties. Producers are often referred to as Rhône Rangers. These grape varieties thrive in the Sierra Foothills, where the very warm and relatively dry climate and porous decomposed granite soil mimic the Rhône region.

Ophir Wines clearly reflects this Rhône heritage. When Ophir partner Paul Burns and his wife, Lois Bailey, planted their Gold Blossom Vineyard, they chose Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault after careful research matching climate, soil and variety. They sourced a large percentage of their vines from Tablas Creek, a grapevine nursery and winery in California’s central coast whose parent enterprise, Chateau Beaucastel, is among the elite producers in the Rhône. In the winery, our red and rosé wines feature Syrah, blended to varying degrees with other Rhône varieties, resulting in our only-in-Ophir wines that still reflect their Rhône lineage.

À votre santé!
Mike Abbott

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