Weiss Brothers Train On The Vine | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Weiss Brothers Train On The Vine

Weiss Brothers Train On The Vine

Shirah Luna Matta Vineyard Aglianico 2013

Observant brothers learned in the field, not the classroom.

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"Opportunity is missed by most people," Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” For Gabriel Weiss, a founder of the Shirah Wine Company, it appeared in the form of surplus grapes from California’s 2005 bumper crop. That year the harvest was so large that many vineyards couldn’t sell all their grapes, so some were simply left on the vine.

Weiss had moved to California in 2004 to work at the kosher Herzog Winery as a "cellar rat," a grunt-work laborer who works inside a winery or barrel room, getting messy with the non-romantic side of wine making. It is a physically demanding job, with long hours and little pay, but can be a fabulous position from which to learn all about making wine. In 2005, a vineyard owner with surplus grapes he couldn’t sell told Weiss that he and a couple of friends, fellow Herzog Winery cellar rats, could have as much as they could pick and haul away from his San Luis Obispo County vineyard. So early the next day, they did just that.

They got a half ton of Syrah grapes and aged a barrel of wine for nine months in a garage. It yielded 288 bottles which they split 3 ways, naming it Shirah, the Hebrew word for "song" and a play on "Shiraz," another name for Syrah-based wine. 

Gabriel’s brother, Shimon, eventually moved west to work at Herzog and Covenant, and in 2008 the brothers made their first wines together. Their wines, released in 2009 under their Shirah label, were an instant critical success and a fantastic start in a very tough industry.

Although religiously observant, the Weiss brothers are somewhat unorthodox winemakers. Their winemaking education has been all on-the-job, rather than from university study. Behind their labels are some powerful, fascinating, creative blends and single vineyard bottlings. The Shirah Luna Matta Vineyard Aglianico 2013 ($65) is one of their most recent releases. Made from the southern Italian Aglianico varietal, the wine's grapes came from an organic and almost entirely dry-farmed vineyard in Paso Robles. This wonderful, balanced wine displays lovely dried red fruit, licorice and mint aromas leading into supple black plum, strawberry, fig, dark chocolate, leather and exotic spice flavors, in a medium frame and a lengthy finish. It is a delightful, food-friendly wine that expresses both the winemaker’s sense of adventure and their growing expertise.

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