¡Qué Syrah!

A black beauty of a wine from north Chico’s hot-brick soil

BLACK GOLD <br>Chicoans Rick and Pam Sorenson are shown harvesting their Syrah grapes, which they say are perfect for Chico’s soil and climate.

Chicoans Rick and Pam Sorenson are shown harvesting their Syrah grapes, which they say are perfect for Chico’s soil and climate.

Photo By Tom Angel

The color of the wine was more black than purple. It seemed to suck the light out of the air, as if the quaff itself were some form of liquid gravity, a kind of mini-black hole contained in crystal. Aromas picked up on this density theme, sturdy walls of rising ethers suggesting blackberries, dusty leather and clove. Then the mouth—heavy, compact, tight, weighed down by layers of bruising black fruits, bricked up within a bitter tannic structure that echoed Sin of Cortez espresso beans. Beads of blueberry, plum and black currant danced down the center of my tongue long after the wine was swallowed as if praying for rain (talk about your dry wine).


Hard to believe that a local “moving mogul” produced this gem of a Syrah on, of all places, a plot of land north of Chico Municipal Airport.

The disconnect dissipates, however, just as easily as the wine washes over the senses. And once you get to know Rick Sorenson, it is easy to see how he and his wife Pam came to craft such a fabulous red out on the flats of Chico.

“I’d hate to use that old adage,” explains Rick, “but I believe that if you do something, do it right—success will surely follow.”

In 1981, Rick purchased Sorenson Moving & Storage from his dad, Loran, who started the company way back in 1942. When Rick took the helm, the business was being run from his dad’s house. Today, Sorenson Moving and Storage, located on Orange Street, is one of the largest (if not the largest) moving companies in town.

But wait a minute. Great wine … moving guy. What gives? When I think of movers I think cheap beer, pizza and sweaty tattoos. Not exactly Syrah territory.

In tracking down the origins of the fabulous wine Rick poured for me, I bumped head on into passion. The passion, however, is not Rick’s alone. Credit is also due to Pam and her parents, David and Janet Weilein.

“Growing up,” states Pam, “I was surrounded by my parents’ vineyards in Ukiah. But when the two daughters moved to and stayed in Chico, they sold and moved in next door.”

North of Chico airport may not look like Redwood Valley Vineyards, but the Syrah emanating from this slice of Butte County’s brown-bricked earth is all champion. From the start, Wild Oak Vineyard was guided by passion. When looking at their 10-plus acres and deciding what to do with it, Rick, Pam, David and Janet all thought the same—plant grapes.

Rick called on the services of Sutter Home’s Hernandez brothers, vineyard managers extraordinaire. They have a ràsumà of vineyards started up and down the state of California, nearly all to rave reviews. The Sorensons’ only request was to plant Syrah.

“We wanted a grape that does well in Chico’s hot and sunny weather,” Rick mentions as we stroll through the 7,000 vines. “Syrah was an easy choice, but which one?”

There are over a thousand different Syrah rootstocks, each professing a certain characteristic that may or may not match up to the unique soil conditions where one intends to plant. That’s where the Hernandez brothers came in. A few holes dug, a taste of the soil, and the answer came back: “Rootstock 110-R.” Just over 10 acres of Syrah 110-R planted five years ago are now producing wines that produce double-takes.

Just this summer, managers from Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon Vineyards arrived on the scene. They too were taken by Rick’s wine. After a barrel sample and a tour of the vineyards, one of the state’s cutting-edge wineries bought it all—the juice that is.

It’s a feather in the cap for Rick and Pam Sorenson and David and Janet Weilein. But it also speaks of good tidings for Butte County and the city of Chico. What Rick and family have done is to define for the region the correct varietal, perhaps even the correct rootstock, to plant for vineyard success. But it is also proof positive that if folks do their homework, possess a passion for what they do, and then go out and do the job right, success will surely come their way.