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2002 Saxum Vineyards "Broken Stones" Syrah, Paso Robles, California

Since the age of 10, Justin Smith has been growing grapes in the same place in Paso Robles. At that tender young age he was planting grapes on the hillsides and ridges that his family still farms today. He has lived his life on this hard calcerous soil, kicking his feet in the dry dust, and unearthing his share of ancient petrified whale bones from the cement, hard ground, sometimes with the aid of a jackhammer.

Wine was in his blood, you might say. Justin, still very young by nearly anyone's standards, started Linne Calodo Cellars in 1997 with a friend, but after five years left to start his own label, Saxum Vineyards in 2002. By all accounts he has had a blockbuster beginning. With Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker scores ranging from 93 to 95 for his initial wines produced from family vineyards, Justin has already made a name for himself and quickly sold out of his small lots of wine (approximately 450 cases).

Smith uses what he calls "minimal" techniques, that amount to non-interventional winemaking. Other than his proud use of one of the only handcrafted Hypac basket presses (to crush his grapes) used anywhere outside of Australia (also used by Torbreck - one of Australia's most well known small producers) Smith does nearly everything by hand. He uses no filtering, no fining, just a lot of maceration, and then into the barrel to let the wine take care of itself.

This particular wine is 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache. The fruit comes from three different vineyards: Denner, Heartstone, and James Berry Vineyard, all of which share the proliferation of broken rock that gives the wine its name.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is dark black-ruby in color, perhaps one of the deepest shades of red I have ever seen. Its nose is remarkably high toned, probably owing to the Grenache, with aromas of candied violets and blackberries with some earthier hints of tobacco. In the mouth it is rich and full with a gorgeous, satiny mouthfeel and flavors of blackberry, tar, and cassis, that taper into a long, lasting, and very satisfying finish. Weighing in at nearly 16% alcohol this wine is incredibly smooth and shows no heat or effect of its high octane nature.

Food Pairing:
I tasted this tonight with a great beef daube, which was nearly a perfect pairing for the rich flavors of the wine.

Overall Score: 9.5

How much?: $70

I was unable to find a source for this particular wine, but at least one of Justin's other wines is available online.

Comments (7)

Hector Hill wrote:
01.14.05 at 7:28 AM

...where did you have this wine...I submitted a request to be on their mailing list about four months ago and they sent me the info in the mail...the next day I went to order on the NET and they had posted the info that is still there today...Sorry, sold out...I wonder why they would even bother to sent me the info on how to purchase...actually it was not $35 but more like $70 (the price went up after the good WS review...and your NET link says $85)...

01.14.05 at 7:48 AM

My understanding about Justin's vineyards is not that he owns them all (with the exception of the patch of James Berry that is the source for his Bone Rock Syrah) but he buys by the acre from various small vineyards around the area. And he'll often do all the vineyard consulting and all that, so in a sense he owns them but not in the "I have a lease on this land" sense.

I love Justin's wines. They were my favorite reds when I did my Paso Robles piece (though the reds from the Glenrose vineyard were very intriguing; I'd love to see Justin and Don Rose partner up, which I think they might be doing).

Alder wrote:
01.14.05 at 10:22 AM


I wish I could say that I found some store with a lot of this stuff lying around, but unfortunately I was given a couple of bottles by a friend in the industry who also like Syrah. I know it's difficult to get.

You're right about the price hike. I'm changing the price to reflect it.

Alder wrote:
01.14.05 at 10:26 AM


Thanks so much for the clarification. As usual you've got good information, and I want to be as accurate as possible. Glad you love these wines. I haven't had any of his others, but if this one is any indication they must be amazing.

01.17.05 at 11:07 PM


I've found the Broken Stones here and there (a wine shop on Sonoma Square, can't remember the name, Paul Marcus Wines in Oakland sometimes). When I bought it, it was in the $40-$45 range. Things may have changed.

However: Bone Rock (Saxum's first bottling, all from the James Berry vineyard I believe) is about $70 and very difficult to find (and quite good). I've found it at Paul Marcus, but only once.

Justin says you can find his wines at Wilmot Gourmet Market in Paso (805 227-0148), but I've never called there and asked. He also points out that his wines are on the wine list at Villa Creek, but that requires you to be dining in downtown Paso.

01.17.05 at 11:09 PM

Oh, rats. Meant to add this:

Saxum's phone number is 805 610 0363. You could just call and ask where to find it :)

Hope that helps

Alan wrote:
08.31.06 at 8:33 PM

Drank the Broken Rock in a restaurant in Chicago tonight. Definitely want to but more - Cost $90 in the restaurant. Excellent!

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