IF THIS HAD BEEN AN ARTICLE about, say, San Francisco bartenders in the 1970s and 80s, chances are pretty good that a couple of Irishmen would have made an appearance by now. But two Scottish winemakers in the same story on Sonoma County syrah? Not bloody likely, you might think. Yet it happens, anyway: Steve Law, who was mentored by zinfandel specialist Michael Talty and inspired by a pair of Rhône vignerons, found another important career influencer when he introduced himself to Edinburgh native Andy Smith, the winemaker and proprietor of DuMol Winery in Windsor.
“I met Andy in ’08 down on the Central Coast at one of the Hospices du Rhone events,” Steve told me last year. “I was initially drawn to him because of his accent. It was like, ‘Who the hell are you?’ I found out he was actually the winemaker at DuMol, and the friendship has grown between the two of us.” He described Smith, 48, as a brilliant advisor, especially when it comes to analyzing different microclimates of Sonoma County for their syrah potential.
Andy Smith has made wine at his Windsor facility since 1999 and started producing DuMol’s Russian River Valley syrah a year later. I called him there recently to chat about the MacLaren wines. He echoed his friend’s comments about his own winemaking mindset, telling me that Steve “knows what he likes, and that’s his target. That’s his vision.”
He and Steve get together regularly to trade bottles and taste each other’s wines, which has given Smith insight into the MacLaren program over several vintages. “Steve started off well over at Talty and had some good guidance,” he said, “but, you know, syrah’s a little different than zinfandel. I think he’s making very interesting wine. What I particularly like is he’s adhering to his vision and not following any trends or critical acclaim or anything like that. He’s making what he wants to make and what he believes in.”
The same year they met, Smith connected Steve with Peter Young, the owner of Dry Stack Vineyard. Come harvest, he thought Young might have some syrah fruit available from his rocky Bennett Valley property. Steve called to inquire, and the rest is MacLaren Wines history—if only for one vintage. Grape sources in California not locked into contracts can, and do, shift with the prevailing winds, and his access to Dry Stack ended up being more of a Bennett Valley experiment. Still, he viewed it as a successful one. Reflecting on the unique opportunity to work with Young’s cool-climate site, he was enthusiastic about the wine that came out of it. The 2008 Dry Stack was “a telling moment in terms of the style” of syrah he was trying to make. “It just lit up,” he said. “That was it. It had everything I was looking for from a stylistic perspective.”