Seven Percent / June 2020
WISH THEY ALL COULD BE CALIFORNIA GRAPES
Arnot-Roberts is the amalgamation of two friends, Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts who met all the way back in the 3rd grade. They grew up watching their hometown of Napa morph from a backwater farmer’s valley into an internationally famous wine region in just a couple decades, all the while seeing the 12% alcohol Cabernets served at the family table grow into the modern 100 pt juggernauts. Duncan and Nathan became obsessed with bikes, and while mountain-biking up and down the valley, they tuned in to the soil, geology, native plants and mini microclimates- all of which would translate to the terroir-hunt later on. Nathan joined his father’s trade as a cooper building wine barrels while Duncan made wine in a few renowned wineries in Napa and Sonoma; and when the two made their first barrel of wine in 2001 in their basement, Nathan even rigged a plexiglass head for the barrel so the wine wouldn’t be in 100% new oak, a portent of the attention to detail that would make AR famous.
The winery has grown slowly over 20 years, beginning with the classics like Cabernet and Syrah, and taking on some of the most remarkable- often experimental, vineyards in California. These days they still produce Cab, along with 11 other grape varieties from sites all over the map: Napa, Sonoma Coast, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Rita Hills, Clearlake, and the Foothills. They don’t own any of the over 20 vineyards they source from, but this frees them up to sniff out the most exceptional sites and work with only the most conscientious growers, and also to play with some of the unheralded seven % grapes that might just be the right fit in California.
WINE NO. 1
Arnot-Roberts “Old Vine White”
Riesling + Sylvaner + many others (field blend)
Heinstein Vineyard, Sonoma County, California 2018
RIESLING (and others)
Riesling absolutely needs no introduction. It’s planted all over the world (oh- except where it’s banned in France!) it’s notorious, misunderstood, abused, reviled, botrytised and devoutly worshipped… but arguably the best-of-the-best come from its OG German homeland (for 6 centuries) on the Rhine River, where it cranks out minerality in slate rock “soils”. While some translation is usually required to gauge a bottle’s sweetness, riesling always liebe to deliver its boundless bright acid, floral bouquet and endless nerve: sometimes apricot petrol fruity, sometimes pure rock crunch, sometimes nutty savory.
This is one of the last of the heritage vineyards planted to white varieties in California; the majority of old vines that remain are red: Zinfandel, Carignan, etc. This old, unirrigated field just outside of Sonoma is the original estate of the fascinating Hungarian-born wine pioneer Agoston Haraszthy, who began collecting and cultivating vines from Europe at this site in the 1850s, making this one of the oldest vineyards outside of the missions. This confetti spray of white and gris grapes was planted in 1954 with a bizarre collection of Riesling, Sylvaner, Green Hungarian, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. This gives each vintage a unique personality based on yields and ripening within the block, as the vineyard is harvested all at once so the picking bins are filled with a kaleidoscopic array of berry color and shape. This is maybe the most delicious history lesson imaginable.
The wild aromatics definitely speak the lovely language of Riesling: apricot and a hint of petrol, honeysuckle and a little jasmine; and while the palate definitely starts in with some honeycomb, it rolls along with a surge of volcanic minerality. That crackling pumice stone is infused with chamomile tea, and there’s golden delicious apples and white peaches throughout, really putting the stone in stone fruit. More and more there is hope for Riesling in California, but this blend may be an argument that in some cases it can benefit with a little help from its friends.
Touriga Nacional Rosé
Playing the leading role in Port blends, Touriga Nacional is that rare grape that is both deeply colored and piercingly acidic, both tannic and textured, and also effusively aromatic. It holds on to its acid even in the warm climate of the Douro, making it a popular blending grape in the warmest climes of California. It’s rarely made into a rosé in its homeland, or anywhere in the world for that matter, but Arnot-Roberts found it totally intriguing in its aromatic depth, its saturated color and high acid even at very low sugar, and thus, Touriga goes from the star of Porto to a budding darling of rosé.
Turning Touriga Nacional- the staple of Port, into a quenching pink summer sipper was mostly a bizarre and happy happenstance (along with the keen eye of great winemakers). Arnot-Roberts was hunting for the very rare creature of Trousseau in California, and found it growing amongst all the other Port varieties in a far flung vineyard planted in the early 90s by a Chilean immigrant devoted to growing and drinking Port. While touring the Trousseau rows, Duncan and Nathan noticed that the Touriga was already fully purple and tasted floral and bright, at sugar levels that would make a wine at 11% alcohol. So they did what any curious (and thirsty) winemakers would do, they picked this strange new grape, stomped it by foot, pressed it gently, fermented in stainless steel and bottled one of the world’s only rosés from Touriga Nacional. Boom.
This rosé reminds me of those himalayan salt lamps, just radiating clear light from its core of brilliant rose quartz. And that pink saltiness pervades throughout, gently sprinkling salinity on the honeydew melon and grapefruit that fills the glass. There is a savoriness almost like prosciutto (all the better to gobble up, wrapped around that melon, my dear) or like brown butter fried sage. Simply put, this pink just shines. It Zigs where so many others get a bit too Zaggy. Turn on your love light, let it shine on me.
North Coast, California 2018
Trousseau definitely draws a line in the sand, getting no love from big-Cab people but totally endless adoration from the crowd that loves wines that are perfumed, low-alcohol, with exotic spice and elegant fruit. It’s distinct from its genetic mutation, Trousseau Gris, a nearly extinct pink grape with a few last vestiges in California. The word Trousseau means “dowry” – maybe because it was traded as such, maybe because it produces a bountiful crop in its homeland in the hills of the Jura, maybe because it’s a wine for celebrating.
Trousseau these days is actually enjoying a little moment of fame in California, even though it remains an obscure blip in the vastness of vines, with only a dozen or so plantings in the state. Some of the first plantings here go all the way back to the 1890s in the Sierra foothills, and yet over the past century Trousseau was mostly called “Bastardo” and lost in field blends with other Portuguese varieties. This is how Arnot-Roberts found the few acres planted on the Luchsinger property in Lake County, just a little Bastardo sandwiched between Tempranillo and Touriga. But the wine they made in 2009 was unmistakably Trousseau, transparently pale garnet color and yet densely packed with rhubarb, pine sap and blood orange. Wanting to see Trousseau in cold coastal sites, they took cuttings from the Luchsingers and convinced friends to convert two small plantings: in the Green Valley sub-app of the Russian River Valley and in Fort Ross Seaview, making the final blend sort of a Côast du Jura.
This copper-colored garnet juice is an anomaly, a red(ish) wine made from red grapes who just don’t give up much pigment at all, resulting in a very light dusty ruby color. While this wine could simply deliver its ample fruits like wild strawberry and rhubarb preserve and be perfectly quaffable, it backs up that lush fruitiness with a dash of exotic amaro, bitter Campari and a resinous herbal tincture that takes it to the next level. This is such a fun wine to pair with different meals, sometimes showing its herbal edge and other times flashing that fruit, and even more fun to blind-taste your geeky friends on.