Growing up in East Los Angeles, Curt Schalchlin didn’t try his first wine until he was in college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he majored in Business. It was through his part-time job during school at Trader Joe’s that he discovered bottles from all over the world and his casual interest in wine tasting on the weekends turned into an eventual fascination and ultimately, his vocation. Later on, Curt took the opportunity to help out his friend McPrice Myers, who was starting his own winery. It was while working with McPrice and Russell From, of Herman Story and Barrel 27 wineries, where Curt first fell for Rhône varietals. A trip to the actual Rhône Valley in France and a conversation with Bernard Gripa, a third generation grower in Saint Joseph, inspired Curt to start his own wine label and call it ‘Sans Liege’ which means “without allegiance” in French. Curt felt this was the ideal way to express his philosophy or, “relentless search for independence. Equally aligned with the freedoms of the New World and the heritage of the Rhône Valley, he is careful not to hold too closely to either. Instead he trusts an intuition of the microcosms of each vineyard site and vine to guide his work through each vintage.” Curt also started a second label under the Groundwork name to focus on single varietal wines, all of which are sourced from select vineyards on the Central Coast. This 100% Syrah from Santa Barbara County is the perfect amalgamation of Old World and New World styles, or Rhône Valley and California in this case. It has all of the ripe, bursting blackberry fruit one would expect from California, yet there is beautiful restraint, seamlessly integrated oak and plentiful earthy spice running through it in the vein of a Rhône Valley wine. The nose offers incredibly vivid aromatics including black currant liquor, juniper berry and espresso bean that flow seamlessly onto the medium-bodied palate. A bit softer than your typical Santa Barbara Syrah, this one showcases velvety tannins, only the slightest hint of cedar oak (from aging 16 months in neutral barrels) and concentrated flavors of chocolate covered cherries, juicy black plum and peppery black licorice. The well-integrated tannins and plush texture make this a Syrah that doesn’t demand food, although it wouldn’t hurt to pair with juicy lamb chops or a burger with Gouda and caramelized onions!