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Tensley Wines & Colson Canyon Syrah

In 1998, Joey Tensley launched Tensley Wines, a winery in Santa Barbara County, where the mountain range runs from east to west.  In that same year, TEW began its relationship with Tensley Wines, a union that’s been growing and running solid since.

Eager to let the vineyard speak for itself, Joey produces vineyard designated Syrah wines that from day one, have been well received on the market.  For his first vintage, Joey produced 100 cases, while serving as the assistant winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards, where he was given space to launch his own label.  Three years later, in 2001, Joey relocated to Buellton, CA to open his own winery, producing 750 cases of wines that immediately appeared on some of the country’s top wine lists.  This same year, Matt Kramer added two of Tensley’s 2001 Syrah wines to the Wine Spectator’s Top Ten Wines in the World list.  An auspicious beginning for a young vintner?  Absolutely! But it was also an incredibly solid foundation that followed with framework in the form of 90-95 point scores from Robert Parker for Tensley’s 2001-2004 vintages.

Thirteen years later, Tensley currently produces 3,300 cases a year.  Pretty sweet for a vintner who was so taken by a trip to Bordeaux at the age of twelve, that had decided then and there that he wanted to make wine when he grew up.  The only foresight missing from this equation was the fact that his eventual wife, Jennifer Beck, was also in France at the age of twelve, following her mother’s footsteps and also beginning her life-long relationship to wine.

Joey Tensley
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Taking advantage of the many micro-climates that the Santa Barbara mountain range provides, Joey cultivates his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in areas that are close to the ocean, while growing his Rhone varietals—Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier—further inland.

Located high in the mountains, off of the Tepesquet Canyon, sits Tensley’s prized, eight-acre Colson Canyon vineyard.  “Colson Canyon was an easy choice to bottle alone,” says Tensley, speaking of his single vineyard release.  At “1,400 [feet] elevation high in the hills, east of Santa Maria, [the] soils are clay loam with a lot of iron and calcareous rocks.”  Here, the ground is steep.  Sitting above the fog line, the vineyard escapes the morning sun while it bakes in the afternoons.  Syrah “does well [here],” he adds.  “It adapts well to different soils and weather.  It seems to really like the cool ocean influence, but has enough heat to get ripe.”

The Colson Canyon Syrah is one of the only Tensley wines to see new oak. Using 20% new, 20% one-year oak, and 60% neutral French oak, Joey came to this combination as a result of oversight.  “I use 20% new oak because [for] the first vintage, I had an odd amount and bought a new 30 gallon barrel to hold the wine,” says Joey. “It was a good result, so I stayed with it.” Auspicious beginning indeed…In 2008, Food and Wine magazine named the 2006 Colson Canyon Syrah “The Top Syrah in America Over $20.” And in 2010, Robert Parker gave the 2008 Anniversary Series Colson Canyon Syrah 99 points.

For his next venture, Joey teamed up with Cecile Dusserre of Domaine de Montvac to produce a French/American blend named Detente, which we’ll be covering next.

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