Jessica Chastain, the fiery redhead now famous for playing strong-willed women, was a virtual unknown to Phil Staehle back in 2010 when he tasted through a flight of syrahs with her. Chastain was at the three-acre property west of Santa Rosa that her aunt, Margaret Chastain, owns. This was a year before Chastain’s break out role as an aspiring socialite in “The Help” earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

“She was introduced as an actress and I thought, ‘Yeah, okay, there’s a million of them out there.’” Staehle said, with a laugh. “Little did I know she was on the verge of stardom.”

Staehle and the Chastains are behind our wine-of-the-week winner –– Enkidu, 2013 Odyssey, Russian River Valley Syrah at $38.

This cool climate syrah will turn heads because of its complexity and balance. It has rich fruit –– pomegranate and blackberry –– with heady spice and bright acidity. The syrah is earthy, with notes of camphor and white pepper in the mix.

“This is probably the most complex wine I produce,” Staehle said. “It’s a very compelling and identifiable vineyard. It has a Eucalyptus grove on the property.”

The winemaker was animated when describing the vineyard, a cradle of far reaching flavors. The grove and the three unique clones of syrah planted there offer a range that includes camphor, green olive tapenade, parsnip, cardamom, orange zest, white pepper and beef blood.

Staehle said he likes being a winemaker because it’s a lot like cooking.

“We don’t want one flavor to override the other, yet we want to create some tension in the wine with complexity,” he said.

Wine piqued Staehle’s interest when he was a teen-ager and by the time he was 18 he had a 50-bottle collection.

“It disappeared by the time I got to college,” he joked.

A pre-law student at U.C. Davis, Staehle was a political science major who graduated in 1983. But instead of going to law school, he worked at Bay Area restaurants and then joined Carmenet Winery, now Repris, learning chemistry in the lab.

Staehle, 58, founded Enkidu in 2003 and the name of the winery comes from “Enkidu and the Epic of Gilgamesh.”

“It’s really the heat and passion of his character, a protector of the earth – that’s what we do here,” he said. “That’s who we are. It’s important to have a name to reflect who we are.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or