2019 Shale Canyon ZSM – Yes ZSM!
(View of vineyard from above Shale Canyon. Photo from Shale Canyon)
So who are the owners/winemakers of Shale Canyon Wines? They are a two man show with Keith Prader and his brother Tim. The responsibilities are for Keith to handle the winemaking, software, sales and marketing. Tim handles the vineyard management, facilities manager and tasting room manager. For the last two years, Keith has been the winemaker. While lines of responsibilities may be drawn, each can and do fill in any and all needs of running a small two man winery. While this area receives about 13 inches of rain per year, they have gone 100% solar power for their operation and today are one of two wineries working completely off the gird.
Formed Shale Canyon in 2007, their property is 375 acres with only 7 acres planted in vineyard. Their first production was 2008. On the estate property they have planted besides Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Keith mentioned to me that on the estate grapes, they drop a lot of fruit and target about 3 tons per acre. Flavor profile is key and dropping fruit allows more “flavor per grape” (FPG). They have sourced grapes for their Chardonnay, Malbec and Syrah. In 2018 they produced about 1,000 cases and today produce approximately 1500 cases. Looking out in time to 2025 they believe they will be between 2000 to 2500 cases maximum.
(Photo from Shale Canyon)
You can experience their wines at their tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Paseo San Carlos, west side of San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh. They are open daily from 12 to 6 pm. They offer some unique wines like a 100% Mourvèdre and Tempranillo, two varietals uncommon for Monterey County.
Photo ©Michael Kelly
The wine was given to me by Keith Prader at the recent 4th International Cabernet Franc Wine Competition & Celebration at the Wine Stroll. Keith mentioned that he thought it was the best wine he has made! A strong statement as his Cabernet Franc racks up awards every year! While tasting it at the Wine Stroll, it deserved a more in-depth examination even by someone like me who is not overly fond of blends. This is a rather unique blend being 48% Estate Zinfandel, 32% Arroyo Seco Syrah and 20% Estate Mourvèdre.
On the eyes a lush dark coloring most likely from the Zinfandel and Syrah varietals. It had a medium to medium heavy viscosity. Here is where it got a bit tricky. I pulled the wine out of the cellar about 30 minutes before the meal. So at first on the nose, it possessed a strong aroma of blackberry and herbal notes. About one hour later, the aroma on the nose was softer and more sensual. On the palate, the flavor profile was a collection of the best of the three varietals: Zinfandel for espresso & vanilla, Syrah for pepper, blueberry and mocha flavors, and Mourvedre with plum and bramble earthy but soft notes. The finish initially had some strong and defined tannins, but again after an hour or two, it very much mellowed out. A long finish of smokiness and leather was very enjoyable. The secret I believe to fully enjoy and appreciate the wine, it to let this one breathe or decant before drinking. This is definitely no version of a mellower GSM, it truly was a hearty wine. The wine goes for $55/bottle.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Photo ©Michael Kelly
Initially pulled this wine out thinking it was going to be more like a mellow GSM to go with a pork chop. The error was as explained above, right out of the cellar, this was a bold and strong bottle of wine (and very good for our personal profile), but it overwhelmed the pork chop. Operator error on my part! Accompanying the meal was a half potato, broccoli and fresh garden salad. While the food was delicious and the wine spot on with depth and character, self-confession, the pairing was not one of the finest.
This makes three wines from Shale Canyon that I would not hesitate to buy: Cabernet Franc, Consortium and ZSM.