Syrah wine grapes can be successful in warm and cool sites in Washington State. However, there are a few locations where the red variety should not be planted, says winemaker Brennon Leighton.

When Rhone varietals, like Syrah, are grown in the wrong location, the wine character can get “all washed out,” said Leighton of Woodinville, Washington’s Efeste Wines. (Efeste, pronounced “F-S-T,” is an acronym for the winery’s three owners Daniel Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin Taylor). Leighton provided commentary during  a summer wine grape tour that focused on Washington-grown Syrah grapes and wines.

Syrah grapes are known for expressing in the wine the surroundings or terroir of the vineyard. In Washington, the grape is grown in a diversity of soils, which lends to unique and different wine styles, Leighton said. “Those that come into our tasting room are actually seeking out Syrah from different places, but the problem is having enough different Syrah wines for them to taste. They don’t want to see a homogenous style of Syrah.”

But that doesn’t mean that premium quality Syrah can be grown in all locations. Leighton recommends that growers avoid planting in the following places:

  • Ground near the floor of the Yakima Valley, or other valley floor, where soils are deep, fertile, with a high water table and abundant soil nutrients
  • Locations susceptible to frost

Leighton also urges growers to avoid overwatering and applying too much nitrogen or nutrients, which can lead to vigorous and dense canopies. Also, cropping too high or too low can lead to overripening or underripening the fruit, he said.

“Growing Syrah is all about vine balance,” he said. “You want to find sites that achieve vine balance so that the varietal characters come out in the wine.”