Andrew Murray Vineyards

2006 'Esperance' Rhone Style Blend

Red Blend

California: Central Coast

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Mission Codename: Red springs eternal

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Return to Wine Spies Santa Barbara County Favorrite, Andrew Murray Vineyards, where we have successfully absconded with two gorgeous Syrah. This time around, procure and return with their Andrew’s Esperance, a delicious Rhone-style red blend.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Andrew Murray Vineyards

Wine Subject: 2006 Esperance

Winemaker: Andrew Murray

Backgrounder: Nearly a year ago, Agent Red began a new round of Wine Spies Agent recruitment. His search uncovered an eager young man named [REDACTED]. After thoroughly vetting [REDACTED], Agent Red brought him into the fold, making him a Junior Agent, and giving him the code-name, Agent Franc. Fran quickly proved his mettle, and when he sleuthed out an Andrew Murray wine, it was clear that Agent Red had recruited wisely. Today we are proud to return to Andrew Murray – and to be featuring his wonderful Esperance.

The Southern Rhone Valley in France is famous for its Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre-based blends that dance on the palate with a range of flavors, richness and elegance. With the popularity and awareness of such wines, more and more California producers are trying their hand with proprietary Rhone style blends. While these blends do not have to adhere to the strict AOC restrictions, they do capture the style very well – and even, on occasion, excel. Today’s selection is a perfect example.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Dazzling dark red cherry, with a deep but perfectly clear heart. With a loose and fast moving surface, this wine settles quickly, leaving behind tight clusters of skinny legs that start high up the glass.

Smell – Lush and dark, with an initial rush of blackberry, black cherry and black currant. These sit right atop ripe strawberry, violets, tobacco, cinnamon and soft vanilla.

Feel – On the initial attack, very soft and a little round at the mid-palate. Then, the wine reveals a fuller body, with medium tannins that grip at the edges of the tongue and the cheeks and lips.

Taste – Rich and meaty, with dark fruit flavors that dominate, initially. The wine leads with blackberry, spiced plum and blackest cherry, and then reveals overripe strawberry, cinnamon, dried meats and tobacco leaf.

Finish – Ultra-long, with lingering black fruits from the nose and palate, supported by soft spice and a flinty minerality that leads to a soft dryness at the tail end.

Overall – A great wine and a wonderful surprise! Given Andrew Murray’s renown for crafting stupendous Syrah’s, our tasting panel didn’t know what to expect of this Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend. Instead, we all approached this wine with senses – and arms – wide open, with no prejudging. Art first sip, we were all very pleased with the wine. With big, bold flavors and aromas, this is no wimpy wine. Instead, Andrew has crafted a GSM blend to rival the Rhones. This wine fills the senses and delivers a wonderful experience that won’t disappoint fans of GSM blends or fans of the winemaker’s great work.

Mission Report:

NOTE: We were unable to locate Andrew Murray for an inter for today’s wine. The following is a previous interview, in which Andrew discusses a different wine.


SUBJECT: Andrew Murray

WINE EDUCATION: Double BS in Fermentation Science and Viticulture, UC Davis

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Founded eponymous Vineyard and Winery in 1990.

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Wine starts and very nearly ends in the vineyard. We are blessed to be in Los Olivos, in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, where we focus exclusively on Rhone varieties, and mostly on Syrah. We have worked tirelessly to pursue relationships with a select few local growers who share our passion for excellence and our attention to detail. We strive to craft wines that speak of their unique hillside origins while adhering to our philosophy of non-interventional winemaking. We will employ as few inputs as possible towards our goal of crafting delicious and ageworthy wines.

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1994 Vintage Syrah, released in 1996.


AGENT RED: Greetings, Andrew. We are thrilled to be showing your Syrah today. I had the great pleasure to review the wine, recently, and I have to tell you, I love it! Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

ANDREW: Hello, I am truly delighted to have our Syrah featured on the site…

RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

ANDREW: Wow…deep question right off the bat… Sometimes I feel as though my parents raised me to be a winemaker, though I know that they would argue with that! My parents raised me as an inquisitive foodie, and shared with me their passion for travel and all things Gourmand…they took me on a few culinary tours of Europe while I was just a young teenager. These food trips once led to the Rhone Valley in Southern France…there we sampled Viognier for the first time. It was the most unusual variety… rich, un-oaked, floral, oily, unctuous, palate filling. It got us all started with the crazy notion of starting a vineyard together, back on a parcel of land that my parents had recently purchased as a Los Angeles getaway…it just happened to be along Foxen Canyon Road, in the heart of some really up and coming wine country…

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

ANDREW: No one winemaker or wine has singularly influenced my winemaking…rather the influence comes from so many wines and so many regions. I lived and worked in Western Australia for nine months before launching AMV, so I was and am heavily influenced by Australia…though I often find the wines to be over the top. So, I temper this influence with my European travels (including virtual travels while sitting at dinner with a great bottle of wine in front of me), where I have often found the wines to have too much restraint. So, I am uniquely influenced by a mythical blend of in-your-face Aussie Juice and wonderfully elegant Old World wines.

RED: Who do you make wine for?

ANDREW: I used to answer this kind of question with the answer, “Myself”…yet it always sounded so self-serving and shallow. What I really meant was that I craft our wines for our consumers, while staying true to MY core values as a person and a winemaker. I strive to make pure and honest and delicious wines for our customers, as I certainly want our customers to appreciate and purchase our wines and to share this ride with me…

RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

ANDREW: The wine we are featuring today is our 2006 Syrah Stolpman Vineyard. The Stolpman Vineyard lies along the beautiful Ballard Canyon Road, in what I would call a moderate zone…not quite cool, not quite warm. The soils are laden with limestone, which mimic the great soils of the Northern Rhone region of France. This produces a very “classy” Syrah that hides its “bigness” quite well. The vineyard owners have stopped selling fruit as of the 2008 vintage so this is the 2nd to last Stolpman Vineyard Syrah that we will craft. It is one not to be missed. It should continue to age for 3-4 more years.

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

ANDREW: I am always overly simple about food pairings, taking the philosophy that I usually choose the wine and then enjoy it with whatever we are eating…however, this wine would be great with grilled meats or a gourmet burger.

RED: In your opinion, what makes Santa Ynez so special?

ANDREW: The Santa Ynez Valley has a magical combination of varied and fantastic soils, amazing hillside aspects, and consistently near-perfect weather. This is combined with conscientious and focused vineyard owners and managers who strive to grow the best fruit possible. Also, the local wine community is a fun bunch of people who are always stretching and trying to improve their own wines and thus the reputation of this place.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

ANDREW: We are making final blends and getting ready to bottle the 2008 Vintage wines for release later in the year.

RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

ANDREW: My great hope in life is that people enjoy the kinds of wines that they ACTUALLY enjoy rather than simply drinking a wine that they think is O.K. to like because someone else has told them that it was good. I see lots of unsure wine consumers out there, who endlessly apologize for their lack of knowledge or sophistication, or for liking a kind of wine that others have deemed less-than-worthy. It really bums me out. I always tell people that they are their own best expert, their own best judge and that they should never be embarrassed to like or dislike a certain wine. It sounds so simple, yet there are too many folks out there that do not approach wine like this at all. I think that too much emphasis has been placed on the wine critic and not enough on their own personal strength. Don’t get me wrong…the wine critic or the expert is a very important piece of the puzzle…often helping a confused consumer (and yes even me) wade through the ever expanding world of wine. But, don’t let them be the judge and the jury, retain that power for yourself. Everyone has some sort of system for liking something over something else…whether it be art, cars, music, sports, books, etc. and usually that system is established over a lifetime of experiences and interactions. Wine seems to intimidate people (not all people certainly), but enough people that it worries me that people are drinking certain wines for someone else’s ego, rather than for their own hedonistic delight. So, I would wish for folks to try our wines with an open mind and an open palate (we have been lucky to get some really nice scores through the years) and to appreciate them (or not, of course) based upon their own perceptions…

RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

ANDREW: One will notice right away that this wine is closed with the Stelvin screw top. We switched to this closure system for all of our wines in 2006 after several years of experimentation. We believe so strongly in the superiority of the closure that we purchased our own bottling line so that I could directly oversee each and every bottle as the cap is spun on. Many are confused about the qualities of the screwcap, so I wanted to leave you with one interesting morsel. The Stelvin screwcap is engineered to let in a small amount of oxygen over time, just like a cork allows. So, it is a miss-truth to say the screwcap is aseptic or airtight. The cork and the screwcap differ in a very important way…the cork is the bark of a special oak tree…it is a living organism and thus is quite variable from batch to batch. So, even though TCA taint has been dramatically reduced through these last few years, there is still chance for leaking and severe oxidation from a bad cork. When we looked at the evidence proving the screwcap as a superior choice, we had NO choice but to bottle our wines this way. Because the air ingress is engineered and is rather a small amount, our wines tend to age more slowly and taste “fresher” long after bottling. We are also allowed to employ smaller amounts of sulfites prior to bottling…all good things in my humble opinion.

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of Andrew Murray Vineyards can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

About This Wine:

“We named this wine in homage of a great restaurant and inn in Vezelay, named L’Espérance. We used the inn as a “home-base” for much of our early explorations into the Rhône Valley and fell in love with the wines of the Southern Rhône during these many trips.

“Espérance” translates into “Hope” from French to English. With this wine, we “hope” to not only recreate the great reds of Southern France, but we further “hope” to craft a wine that will inspire your senses the way we were inspired over a decade ago."

The 2006 Esperance is the fulfillment of a dream to produce a rich, blended-wine that rivals the great wines of Gigondas, in the Southern Rhone Valley, while retaining an Andrew Murray Vineyards “house style”. This vintage was given a more serious winemaking regimen with more new oak. I also chose a “bigger” Syrah to blend in with the Grenache and Mourvedre, so the resulting wine is a bit more “profound”. I think that it is perhaps the best Esperance that we have ever released. All of the extra work yields a rich, concentrated wine with aromas and flavors of ultra-ripe strawberries, black cherries, and blueberries, mixed in with the spiciness of cinnamon and vanilla from the toasty new French Oak. We chose to close the bottle with the Stelvin ScrewCap to preserve the freshness and avoid off flavors. It is a blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 15% Mourvedre that is 100% delicious.

Winemaking Notes: All of our red wines are hand-picked and “hand-sorted” in the vineyard with an eye for only picking the best fruit. Then the fruit is gently destemmed back into the same picking bins. We then use gravity to transfer the newly destemmed grapes to our open-top fermenters, which vary in size from 1 ton to 5 tons, allowing us the utmost flexibility of keeping differing vineyard lots separate throughout the various winemaking processes. Fermentation is allowed to start “spontaneously” with the indigenous yeast present from the vineyard. All the while, we are punching down 2-4 times per day, depending upon the stage of fermentation. The cuvaison lasts from 7 to 21 days, with the decision to run the free-run wine off the skins being made from extensive tastings and experience with our estate fruit. The skins are then pressed in our new and extremely gentle Europress, which yields a press-wine that is most-often worthy of being blended back with the free-run wine. The new wines are next transferred to a mix of new and used French oak barriques where the subsequent ageing takes place. Each different estate vineyard and each variety are kept separate throughout this entire process which allows us to make the best possible blend. After approximately 9 months of aging, the blend is assembled, and then transferred back to barriques for further ageing and the “marriage” of the differing flavors.

About The Winery:

Andrew Murray fell in love with the emerging Rhône varieties, Syrah and Viognier, in the late ’80s while traveling through the Rhône Valley. He took that passion further when he headed out for a short internship in Australia in 1992 to learn more about the famed Australian Shiraz. There he fell so in love with Syrah that he overstayed his planned three months by almost a year.

When he returned home, he earned a degree in viticulture and oenology from U.C. D avis and started his eponymous vineyard and winery, working with growers who mirrored his passion for excellence. He found vineyard owners who matched his desire for perfection, and who farmed their vines to ruinously low yields with the most advanced viticultural methods. Andrew’s razor sharp vision can be surmised succinctly in the company motto, “Handcrafted wines from steep hillside vineyards, planted exclusively to Rhône Varieties.”

All of the focus, passion, and dedication have paid off. Today, Andrew Murray Vineyards is considered, “One of Santa Barbara’s finest wineries,” by Robert Parker,Jr. and the editors of Food and Wine magazine were in agreement when they named Andrew as the “Tastemaker Of the Year” in 2004.

Technical Analysis:

Varietals: 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, & 15% Mourvedre


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