Guests arrived. The inevitable pile up of wines collected on the marble kitchen island. I was looking forward to some old Gaglioppo I carried north from Los Angeles. But little did I know, those were not going to be the treat of the evening. After the beet salad came an Arnot-Roberts. I had heard the buzz. New faces about town.
“This is your wine, the 2008 Clary Ranch syrah? ” I asked Nathan Roberts as I tried to register what this new taste of old California was in my mouth. Alcohol, mint, clover, stem, spice, color and horse.
“Pretty neat!” I said as I noted that this must have had low alcohol.
Sure, I found it lovely, delicious but I suspected that some readers of other blogs would run for a stick of gum. I thought to myself, '"If is a direction alternative for California, I'm in-- ready to write a retraction to my 2008 op-ed piece on California wines.
Then I doubled back to the label...11.5%? "But how?” I asked.
The 2006 was picked on November 3rd @ 21.05 Brix and that was the ripest that wine has ever plumped out to. The 2007 never quite made it to ripeness and the 2008 squeaked through. The 2008 wine was foot -trodden (as was the '07) and had plenty of cola, clover and spice, helped by whole cluster, natural fermentation.
To find out how, I needed to spend some time with the three Ts; thinking and talking and tasting. Last month, I olled in to their old apple processing barn in Forestville, Sonoma. It was the second day of that hot spell, the one that felled so many grapes in the Golden State.
The winery was warm, let's make that hot. We retreated to a narrow packing room with the A/C. There I was, around a barrel with fresh-faced Nathan Roberts and his equally fresh faced boy-hood bud, Duncan Meyers, friends since their Cub Scout days in Napa
"Napa? You grew up in Napa and make wine like these?” I asked with great admiration.
They were embarrassed by the Cub Scouts but tried to explain to me they grew up around wine and their evolution was nothing unusual. "Napa? And you make low alcohol and low intervention wines? No inoculations, acid or tricks. You've got a chardonnay in there still not finished from 2009. Don’t people think you’re freaks?”
Turns out this was a relatively new turn of vinous events for them. As Nathan said, "The narrative for me is being rewritten."
Their first vintage was in 2002. Their real philosophical change came about in the cooler 2005. Other people in California were flipping out but they liked this lean. So they did some soul searching. The wines they admired were high acid, low jam, with some edge and always provoked a reaction. They traveled, they talked to winemakers, unlike so many other winemakers who bow at let's say Thierry Allemand's feet, they actually listened to those wines. They did not mimic, but they listened instead of drinking Allemand and making fruit bombs.
As Duncan said, "Our palates shifted westward towards the ocean."
Which is how they unearthed the Clary Ranch. Writer, Jordan Makay describes that vineyard close to Tomales Bay beautifully in a piece for San Francisco Magazine, "Windblown, fog tormented, denuded hillsides ."
2009 Arnot-Roberts Old Vine White Compagni-Portis Vineyard Sonoma Valley ($30): -Gosh, I love california field blends. This is floral, honeysuckle, lily and a bitter edge.
2009 Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay Green Island Vineyard Napa Valley ($30):- Lively and lemon.
2009 Arnot-Roberts Trousseau Luchsinger Vineyard Clear Lake ($30): yes, you read right. Trousseau. A gamay lilt and perfume, berry and bitter. Pretty complex cookie.
2007 Arnot-Roberts Cabernet Sauvignon Bugay Vineyard Sonoma County ($80): helped out by the petite verdot and cabernet franc, bell pepper varietal character but sweet fruit and Reminds me of a cali cab with aging power, like the ones we love now from the 70's?