The Tasting Panel magazine

Nov 09

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Page 28 of 92

W ine directors John Lancaster and Robert Perkins started making wine on a lark. What began in 2002 as a weekend winemaking pastime for the on-premise San Francisco professionals, producing about 14 barrels of Sonoma Coast Syrah, took wing to a 4,000-case portfolio. Their label, Skylark, named after the hovering songbird, includes Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrahs sourced from some of the most expressive vineyards in Northern California. Lancaster and Perkins are industry veterans whose day jobs at popular Boule- vard—Lancaster as Wine Director and Perkins as his assistant— mean they are maintaining an inventory that weighs in at just under 10,000 bottles, one of the bigger on-premise cellars in the City. "The most popular wines in the restaurant right now are Pinot Noirs, and we're also moving a lot of Rhône varietals," said Lancaster, who began his career as a bartender and worked as a sommelier and wine director at the memorable Cypress Club until the late 1990s. Case in Point for Terroir The Skylark portfolio consists of blended and single-vineyard wines inspired by fruit that caught Lancaster's attention. "We began with Red Belly, a 47% Carignan, 47% Syrah, 6% Grenache blend at $19 SRP, which is our homage to the South of France. It's based on juicy, low-tannin Syrah we source from Knights Valley and Carignan from Redwood Valley for a bright and spicy blend that's very accessible." Skylark Wine Company's three single-estate Syrahs are site-driven, Rhône- inspired wines with varietal expression that can be tied directly to their respec- tive vineyards. John and Robert make the wines similarly and use the same oak on all three, which levels the playing fi eld in favor of terroir. The 2006 Unti Syrah from Dry Creek Valley owes its fl oral violet aromas, deep blue fruit and taut texture to whole-cluster fermentation and no more than 30 percent new oak. Pristine, biodynamic fruit is an Unti trademark, and natural farming practices have to account for some aspects of the quality and expression found here. The 2007 Rodgers Creek Syrah is reminiscent of Côte Rôtie, with spicy white pepper and meaty aromas, dark red fruit and restrained, elegant tannins. The vineyard is managed by Pete Opatz, whose mastery of cool climate growing helps derive the utmost expression from this hilltop site between the towns of Petaluma and Sonoma. The 2006 Stagecoach Syrah is defi ned by concentrated Atlas Peak mountain fruit that shows balanced, mouthfi lling ripeness, velvety tannins and a modest 15 percent alcohol. The largest of the Skylark Syrahs, wines grown on this ter- roir are also some of the most popular. Skylark is sold direct and distributed in ten markets nationwide. 28 / the tasting panel / november 2009 Close-Up story and photos by Deborah Parker Wong A Bird Worth Watching Skylark is ready to take fl ight John Lancaster, Wine Director of Boulevard in San Francisco, with a bottle of his Skylark Syrah.

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