[review]Justin Smith started Saxum in 2002 with a love of wine, a single block of Syrah and a dream to make it as a vintner.

Saxum Vineyards now has a cult following, based out of Paso Robles California and producing just above 3,000 bottles annually. Their wines are in high demand as they keep production numbers low and focus on rocky calcareous soils, steep hillsides, sunny days, and cooling ocean breezes. The elements speak through the wines as they pick through the fruit at the peak of ripeness and use a minimalist approach in the cellar.

Saxum is all about respecting the farm and creating everything sustainably without chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Production is kept at 3,000-4,000 cases a year divided between seven different cuvees, Broken Stones, James Berry Vineyard, Bone Rock, Booker Vineyards, Paderewski Vineyard, Heart Stone Vineyard and Terry Hoage Vineyard.

We tasted one of the originals, the James Berry 2010 vintage where raspberries and blackberries lead the way followed by Provencial herbs and smooth dense tannins. Saxum wines are never racked off their lees and are bottled unfined and unfiltered. It’s what makes them worth the hunt.

Sitting down to the table with some tasty grub with my whole family is the best way possible to enjoy a glass of vino! – Justin Smith

In the midst of tasting some great wines we had a chance to get inside of the famous winemaker’s head and find out about the philosophy behind the grapes. “In the vineyard we like to let our unique location show itself, it’s a very rocky mountainous area that produces fairly intense wines.  We farm organically, and rarely if ever water the vines.  This produces very small yields of concentrated grapes.”

The 2010 James Berry was one of the most unique wines we’ve ever tasted, and we couldn’t help but drink every sip. The James Berry won Wine Spectator’s Vintage of the Year in 2007 and runs at least $250 a bottle. The release price for 2010 was $89, but it’s high in demand and pretty damn elusive. The waiting list is currently closed, so sign up now for a chance to taste this vino yourself.

The 2010 growing season was incredibly cool, allowing for great hang time which lead to great flavor and tannin development. The end result is an incredibly complex intense fruit that translates to a beautifully developed vintage with tons of red and black fruits jumping from the glass. Justin called it his personal favorite since the award winning 2007 vintage…”Because of the cool year and our refined winery techniques, it contains great focus, purity of fruit, and freshness. I think that’s my favorite part. The freshness we captured. In no small part this vibrancy comes from the fact that most of the Grenache was aged in concrete tank, along with the large puncheons. The Mourvedre and Syrah saw time in tight grained French oak, adding some nice layers and richness to the wine.”

We also asked Justin what separates him from other vineyards. “I’m the 3rd generation that has lived here on our vineyard.  I grew up tending the vines with my parents. I think that gives me unique perspective when it comes to farming our land for the best possible fruit.  I also learned to make wine from my father, and he taught me never to stop striving for perfection.  To keep experimenting and pushing the boundaries.

I love wines that show the best possible expression of where they came from and what season they were grown in.  To me the other ‘elements’ are rather secondary, although a wines first priority is to be pleasurable.  It has to please all the senses.  So put those two things together, being true to it’s origin/variety/season along with pleasing the senses and you have a great bottle.”

We ended the tipsy tasting session with a little insight into Justin’s daily inspiration. “Great wines from around the world inspire me.  When I first started making wine it was with the intention that I wasn’t going to try and make a great wine for Paso Robles, I wanted to make a wine that could sit proudly on a table next to the greatest wines in the world.”