2006 Fortunati Vineyard Syrah
Syrah •Fortunati Vineyard
California: Napa Valley
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Mission Codename: Fortunate One
Operative: Agent White
Objective: Secure an exceptional Napa Valley Oak Knoll Syrah
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Schulz Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2006 Fortunati Vineyard Syrah
Winemaker: John Schulz
The name alone of Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll AVA, with its ideal climate and soil for bold red grapes, inspires taste buds around the globe, so when we had the chance to sample John and Michelle’s Fortunati Vineyard Syrah we were obviously excited. John Schulz is a big shot over at von Strasser, one of our favorite Napa Wineries, and thus we were able to get the inside scoop on his own labor of love. Once you taste this Syrah, you’ll fall in love too.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Dark purple, inky and almost black in color with deep dark garnet edges and clusters of fast thin legs that streak down the edge of the glass when swirled.
Smell – Big, bold and complex in its nose with aromas of wild blackberry and bilberry over a base of black pepper, fresh cut cedar and hints of floral lavender, mocha and an earthy quality.
Feel – Full-bodied, dry and rich with a smooth supple tannins and a touch of spice on the edge of the palate. Its balanced acidity provides a creamy round texture for the bold flavors to come.
Taste – Extremely well integrated for a relatively youthful wine, with flavors of ripe black fruit, ripe plum, mild black pepper and hints of cedar, leather, wild fennel and cocoa.
Finish – This wine finishes long with lingering flavors of its ripe fruit and complex earth, wood and spice components.
Conclusion – The 2006 Fortunati Vineyard Syrah is a delicious wine that is perfect for cozying up to a warm fire with your favorite secret agent. Well integrated and complete with classic aromas and flavors, this is a Syrah that is drinking beautifully now but will also continue to develop over the coming years.
For today’s mission report, we let Agent White out into the field to meet with John Schulz. Here is a transcript of their conversation:
AGENT WHITE: Hi John, a pleasure to meet you.
JOHN SCHULZ: Agent White! I just got a call from Agent Red, telling me to keep an eye on my wallet during our meeting!
WHITE: Curse Agent Red!
JOHN: Just kidding, White. I know how Red like to rib you, so I thought I’d jump in, too.
JOHN: Hey, its really good to meet you. I heard from Agent Red that you love my 2006 Fortunati Vineyard Syrah.
WHITE: Finally, Agent Red got something right… Yes, your Syrah is really impressive. So is your history in the wine business. I’ve been looking into your background and you’ve really had a great career.
JOHN: I have been really lucky.
WHITE: Iowa is a long way from California’s wine country. After you attended U of Iowa, what got you interested in wine?
JOHN: After I graduated in the 80’s, I moved to California to work in the restaurant business. Naturally, I was exposed to many incredible wines. I quickly realized that I wanted in to the biz.
WHITE: … so you spent time working as a cellar rat in the Central Valley, right?
JOHN: Wow, you have great intel!
WHITE: We try. After paying your dues by hauling hoses, cleaning tanks and moving palettes of wine, you found your way into a sales role at Franciscan Winery. There, you rose to a position of prominence, all the while learning all you could about winemaking as well.
JOHN: Go on…
WHITE: You caught the winemaking bug, yourself, and started making a few barrels for fun. During this period you joined von Strasser – which is a Wine Spies favorite, by the way – as their director of sales. After crafting some great ‘garage’ wines (and some not so great ones) on your own, you dialed in your winemaking skills, and decided to launch your own label.
JOHN: Impressive. That you know so much, that is.
WHITE: So, Schulz Cellars was born and your first commercial vintage was a 2005 Syrah. Your wines, made from fruit grown at some of the finest vineyards, were met with critical acclaim. Deservedly so. Your 2006, as I said, is very impressive. You are the sole winemaker, correct?
JOHN: That’s right.
WHITE: As a winemaker, how do you approach winemaking?
JOHN: I know that agent Red is fond of asking, “Are you a white lab coat winemaker, or a naturalist winemaker?” I would have to say that I take the more natural approach. Not to sound overly cliche, but great wines really do start in the vineyard. I also strive to handle the wine minimally. This means nature runs her course and I don’t use any odd chemistry or additives in my wines.
WHITE: That’s best. Speaking of the vineyard, the grapes in your Fortunati Syrah are grown by your old High School classmate, Gary Luchtel.
JOHN: Yeah, it was a coincidence that Gary followed a similar career path. Those grapes that come from our 2 acre block in Gary’s Fortunati vineyard (in the Oak Knoll District) are simply amazing. During the growing season, I take care of the block entirely. Watering decisions, pruning, and the like, are all up to me.
WHITE: How did Fortunati fare during this odd 2008 growing season?
JOHN: Really well, in fact. Where other wineries experienced really harsh losses, there was zero crop loss at Fortunati. We picked early this year and the grapes were fantastic. Clusters and berry size were down from normal, but that only makes for more concentrated flavors. We got less juice this year, but the 2008’s should be great.
WHITE: You are to be congratulated on this wine, John. The last time you enjoyed a glass, did you eat a meal along side?
JOHN: Yes! In fact, we had braised short ribs and root veggies. This Syrah is a great food wine – very austere with great backbone and structure. It pairs well with most anything I have thrown at it.
WHITE: I’m looking forward to my next glass. Don’t tell Agent Red, but I’ve swiped his sample bottle! (evil laugh)
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Oak Knoll AVA in Napa Valley can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
Awards & Accolades:
90 Points – Wine Spectator – “Serves up a complex mix of dark berry, blue, boysenberry and huckleberry all show prominently displayed, joined by spice, leather, cedar and herbal scents. Supple textured.” Drink now through 2013.—J.L.
About This Wine:
Rich but not to fat with a solid core of tannins. Bright and vibrant red cherry fruit with a rich, round mouth feel ending with a hint of anise and cloves.
About The Vineyard:
THE FORTUNATI VINEYARD was planted by Gary Luchtel of Surh Luchtel Cellars. John Schulz and Gary grew up together in a small town in Iowa and through that relationship Schulz Cellars was fortunate enough to secure a contract on a 2 acre block of Syrah. The Fortunati Vineyard is situated in the heart of the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. Syrah has become an important part of the Oak Knoll AVA due to the ideally suited deep clay loam soils, which produce wines that are rich and complex.
About The Winery:
SCHULZ CELLARS was founded by John and Michele Schulz who have a combined 35 years of experience in the wine industry.
John’s career started in the mid eighties with a large winery in the Central Valley where I worked in the cellar as well as sales on the weekends in the tasting room. Though a natural progression, he moved to outside sales for a small central coast wine distributor. In the early nineties he took a position at Franciscan winery where I spent nearly ten years in sales throughout the US. He is now Vice President/Sales Manager at von Strasser Winery in Napa Valley.
Michele began her wine career in the early nineties at Pine Ridge Winery and is now the customer direct sales manager at Arrowood Winery in the Sonoma Valley. Prior to this, Michele was able to sharpen her wine skills with stints in retail sales at a well known wine shop in Denver as well as a winemaking position at Chateau St. Michelle in Washington State.
Having experience in both winemaking and sales, they were then lucky enough to have some close friends with recently planted vineyard land in Napa that was not yet under contract. They began making very small amounts of wine from the Lampyridae Vineyard on Mount Veeder in 2001. Their first commercially released bottling was from the 2005 vintage with a Syrah from the Oak Knoll District and a Zinfandel from Mount Veeder. In the 2006 vintage, they added a Red Wine to our portfolio called “Samuel’s Cuvee” which is a blend of Napa Valley Cabernet and Syrah. We will also add a Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Veeder in 2009. The result is the formation of Schulz Cellars and the commitment to producing high quality vineyard designate wines from the Napa Valley.
Schulz Cellars has been a life long goal for John and Michele and they hope that their wines will find their way into your homes and onto your table in the coming year and for many years to follow.
Varietal Make up: 100% Syrah
Appellation: Oak Knoll District
Cooperage: 50% French Oak, 50% American Oak, 50% new barrels 18 months in barrel
Release Date: June 2007
Production: 200 cases