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Winter / Spring 2006
Napa Sonoma Magazine

The Exceptional Vintner

Pax Mahle started his winery with the simple goal of making good Syrahs. And he’s succeeded—big time

By Jackie Krentzman

Pax Mahle’s father wanted to name him Mickey, after baseball slugger Mickey Mantle. His mom liked Basil, after the herb. “I guess they kept the peace by deciding upon Pax,” says Mahle, referring to pax’s English translation: peace.

Peace is what Pax has found with his calling. The 34-year-old proprietor of Pax Wine Cellars in Santa Rosa launched his winery in 2000 with the mission of producing Rhône varietals. The former wine buyer and sommelier had discovered many underutilized or overcropped Syrah vineyards on the North Coast, and believed they could be developed to produce excellent Syrahs. And he’s done just that. Pax’s Syrahs are considered some of the best in Northern California, if not the state. “I love Syrah,” he says. “It has an exceptional ability, which it shares with the Pinot grape, of showing its sense of place clearly.”

Why are his wines so consistently excellent? Mahle focuses on grapes grown in cool coastal regions, such as the Russian River and Mendocino, or at a high elevation, which allows the grapes to cool at night, and he uses traditional winemaking techniques, such as crushing by foot, indigenous fermentations, fine French oak, and bottling without filtering. He also employs the painstaking process of crop-thinning, shoot positioning, and leaf-pulling on a vine-by-vine basis—something only a small, artisanal winery such as Pax can do. Although he employs many traditional techniques, he leaves a lot to impulse. “I’m not a classically trained winemaker,” he says. “And I feel lucky I’m not. I have no preconceived notions of how things should be. I make wine by intuition and gut instinct.”

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