Ellen doggett

Ellen Doggett

Top 5 Californian Wines

New to Californian wines and want to know the best grape varieties to try first? Californian wine-lover Ellen Doggett takes a look at the incredible diversity of the golden state's wines. California at Home Welcome to 2020, the year of social distancing, zoom meetings, secret loo roll hoarders and obsessing over baking sourdough. It is a bizarre time, and we are stuck at home dreaming of the places we will visit when lockdown lifts. For us, many of those places are in California. Sipping beautiful wines, overlooking sun-soaked vineyards; exploring everything our favourite US State has to offer. Yet perhaps exploring California can take on a new guise these days. Through a wine bottle enjoyed at our dining table, in the garden or a comfortable armchair. This is the kind of lockdown exploration we can get behind, but where to start? We have whittled this adventure down to the top five grape varieties that perfectly sum up the diversity and deliciousness of Californian wine. 5. Zinfandel Despite a reputation for being just sweet and pink, or beefy and tannic, this variety is a chameleon. To pigeonhole this grape into two styles does it a disservice. This variety is one of the most versatile grapes grown in California today. It is genetically identical to Italian Primitivo and Croation Crljenak, both countries whose immigrants played a big role in the history of Californian wine. From light, fragrant and delicate, to bold, muscular and rich, Zinfandel can fall anywhere on the red wine style spectrum. Looking for something fresh, with silky structure? Try Viano Vineyards 2016 Zinfandel, one of the oldest wineries in the San Francisco area and completely organic. Interested in a bolder, balanced style? Broc Cellars 2017 ‘Wirth Vineyard’ Zinfandel is a real winner. Based in Berkeley, Chris Brockway is a pioneer in the ‘Urban Winery’ concept, and sources the finest fruit from across California. 4. Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Sauvignon rules supreme in California, and for good reason. Originally from Bordeaux, this grape found a natural second home in the golden state. It helped catapult California to world acclaim, when its top Cabernets triumphed against their Bordeaux equivalents in the 1976 blind tasting ‘The Judgement of Paris’ (looking for a good lockdown film about the tasting? Try ‘Bottle Shock’). Like Zinfandel, it is extremely versatile. Grown in abundance from north to south, each region in California has its own unique expression. Napa Valley-styling without the price tag? Slingshot has you covered, with their brilliant value 2017 Cabernet. Something more ‘cult’, from a mountainous area? Mount Eden in Santa Cruz is unrivalled. We love their second wine, Domaine Eden, as an earlier drinking style. A contemporary twist on the classic comes with Arnot Roberts in Sonoma. Their 2016 Montecillo Vineyard Cabernet is the perfect balance between rich fruit and elegant structure. 3. Syrah A sun-loving variety that thrives in California. Originally from the Rhone Valley, Syrah gained popularity in the golden state as Americans fell in love with Hermitage and Cote Rotie. Local producers cottoned onto this trend, planting Syrah to try and replicate this success on home soil. It was not an instant success though. For years Syrah lived in the shadow of Zinfandel and Cabernet, but all that changed when a new generation of winemakers tapped into its potential. This is an exciting time to be drinking Californian Syrah. Seth and Megan Kunin shone light on Syrah in Santa Barbara. We would recommend their 2016 vintage, for the perfect mix of ripe Californian fruit and classic Syrah spice. For something more intense, anything produced by Piedrasassi is a winner. Focusing on cool climate sites, Sashi Moorman and his wife have propelled this grape variety to great acclaim. 2. Pinot Noir Notoriously difficult to grow, but if you get it right the results are amazing. In California’s sun-soaked climate, Pinot Noir needs to be planted on the coolest sites and grown very carefully. The best Pinot Noir vineyards in the golden state are some of the most extreme, teetering near cliff edges, on the side of mountains, or as close to the sea as possible. Rolling morning fogs, higher altitudes or cool breeze from the coast are the recipe for success for Pinot Noir in California. And what success they have, producing wines that can even rival top Burgundy. Fancy something fun, light and quirky? Moobuzz produce vibrant Pinot (blended with a tiny percentage of Italian grapes), in the coastal region of Monterey County. Perfect slightly chilled. If you want to go straight to the top, Domaine de la Cote in Santa Rita Hills is a must. Small quantities and unrivalled quality. 1. Chardonnay Though California is perhaps most famed for red wines, do not underestimate the star power of its Chardonnay. Chardonnay was the other variety that triumphed in the Judgement of Paris, making the world sit up and pay attention to Californian Wine. Chardonnay is a grape that thrives here. However, it did once fall out of fashion thanks to producers getting a bit heavy handed with the oak. That has changed dramatically in recent years. Now winemakers strive for fresher, leaner, complex Chardonnays that are more salted butter and less rich cream! Fancy something full flavoured, but still mineral and fresh? Michael Cruse’s ‘Rorick’ Chardonnay fits the bill. Grown in the Sierra Foothills, this is a great example of modern Californian Chardonnay at its best. If you are a Burgundy drinker keen to try new things, we cannot get enough of Jamie Kutch. Playfully nicknamed ‘Kutch Dury’ by his fans, these Sonoma Coast wines are some of the best in the State. For more fantastic Californian wines, check our our Postcards from California collection and sign up to our mailing list.


Ellen doggett

Ellen Doggett

The Tale of Broc Cellars

Chris Brockway and the tale of Broc Cellars We are no strangers to the concept of an ‘Urban Winery’ here at Roberson. Our own London Cru sits in an old Gin Distillery near Earls Court; inspired by producers who pioneered this concept in California. It’s a simple one, the idea of creating quality focused wines, in urban settings, with fruit sourced from further afield. Yet this simple idea courts controversy. Isn’t it illogical to completely remove grapes from their home and transplant them into the bustle and concrete of a modern city? What’s the allure here? California is a huge state, with diverse wine growing regions that are well connected. You no longer need to be on a vineyard’s doorstep to produce excellent wine from its grapes. Urban Wineries have opened a new world of winemaking, with freedom to create whatever you want in a space that’s not tied down by tradition or geography. Enter Chris Brockway. Chris is a winemaker who learnt all the rules before he started to break them. When most people think of Californian wine, they think of the rolling hills of Napa and picturesque rural wineries. They think of big bold Cabernet’s, rich buttery Chardonnay and Zinfandel at every turn in the road. It is classic, it is tradition, and it is a region that’s very proud of its heritage. It should be, but it should also be very proud of the creatives shaping its future. Chris Brockway studied at UC Davies before working for JC Cellars, and was set up to produce very traditional Californian wines indeed. Yet he was also frequenting a Natural wine bar in San Francisco, where the wines were very different to what he’d been taught to make. Chris started to go against the grain. Who’s to say that there is only one way to make ‘Californian’ wine? In 2006, Chris set up shop in an industrial unit in Berkeley and Broc Cellars was born. From day one, Broc was all about experimentation. No grape variety, style or winemaking method was off limits, and Chris always opted for quality over quantity. This is how it has remained for the last 14 years. He isn’t bound by geography, and sources grapes from far and wide; Zinfandel from Sonoma, Valdigué from Solano County, Carignan from Alexander Valley and Counoise from Mendocino. In 2013, Chris produced 6,000 bottles from 15 different varieties! All as naturally as possible, with spontaneous fermentations and minimal use of Sulphur. Today Broc has expanded beyond Berkeley in many ways, developing collaborative relationships with its trusted growers across California. Together they’ve worked hard to eliminate all use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or fertilizers in the vineyards. The wines are so alive, from their light Beaujolais-esc Valdigué (a variety once mistaken for Gamay!) to their bold spicy Syrah, and everything in between! Year on year, they are defined by vibrancy and freshness; something that really seems to stem from happy vines and a creative mind. Broc Cellars is an urban winery that completely embraces what it is and puts no limits on what it can do. Total freedom and innovation in an unlikely part of California.


Ellen doggett

Ellen Doggett

Focus on Burgundy

What makes Burgundy so special? When I was 22, I flew to Paris, hired a car with a broken Satnav and got very lost driving to Burgundy in the hot August sun. My hosts in Chablis were busy preparing for harvest, so I spent most of my time exploring the breadth of the Cote d’Or alone. Wandering through vineyards, eating too many eclairs, tasting amazing wines and falling head over heels for this unique French region. I’ve been hooked ever since. Burgundy roughly stretches between Dijon and Lyon. It is defined by individual villages, growing predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although other grape varieties, including Aligote, Pinot Blanc and Gamay are also permitted. Each village has its own designated vineyard areas complete with scored quality levels (Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru), appellation laws, and distinctive styles. As a good rule of thumb, villages in northern Burgundy (aside from Chablis) mostly produce wines from Pinot Noir, and those in the south from Chardonnay. However, there are exceptions. You can find some amazing Pinot Noirs grown in southerly Chassagne Montrachet, and the northerly village of Morey St Denis is home to a 100% Aligote Premier Cru (Clos des Monts Luisants). There is even an appellation near Chablis called Saint Bris, that grows Sauvignon Blanc. Just when you think you’ve got Burgundy figured out, it’s very good at throwing curve balls and opening a whole new world of wine to explore! We are very lucky to represent some wonderful Burgundy producers at Roberson. Two who I visited last year, were Domaine Pierre Guillemot and Domaine Chavy Chouet. Domaine Pierre Guillemot Domaine Pierre Guillemot are a big part of the history of Savigny-les-Beaunes, having produced wines in the village for eight generations. We visited at the end of June 2019, in the middle of a scorching heat wave. 36C without a cloud in the sky, it was a welcome reprieve to walk down the steps of their ancient cellar to taste wine in the cool and dark. All their wines are wonderful, but my personal favourite is a white Savigny-les-Beaunes produced from their Dessus Les Gollardes vineyard. This vineyard was planted over 50 years ago with 70% Pinot Blanc and 30% Chardonnay. Phillipe Guillemot (who now runs the winery with his brother Vincent) describes the wine as not a blend, but a co-habitation, celebrating the unique character of both grapes, whilst still working in harmony. Phillipe then pulled a bottle from the back of the cellar, caked in dust and cobwebs (pictured above). He opens and pours. We all taste together blind. What vintage he asks? We put our heads together. The wine is so fresh, and the fruit is still forward. There are hints of honey to show development. We agree on a year between 2008 and 2010. The actual date? 1991. Our jaws hit the floor! We currently stock the 2017, and it is drinking beautifully, but don’t underestimate this Domaine, that wine has the legs to age for many many years to come too. Domaine Chavy-Chouet Domaine Chavy Chouet was the next stop in the day. Based in Meursault, the Domaine is run by Romaric Chavy, who took over from his father Hubert at just 22. One of his great winemaking influences is his godfather Francois Mikulski, which I feel translates well in his own style. Focusing more on a lean, pure fruit profile instead of masking the Chardonnay with rich oak (as has previously been the norm). Romaric is a key player in shaping the modern style of Burgundy. Again, we move out of the sweltering sun and into the cellar, to taste his 2018’s from barrel. This is where Romaric’s unique style comes into its own, his focus on preserving acidity and fruit working perfectly with this richer, warm vintage. They’re damn good! People are often apprehensive about drinking young Burgundy, but if you are going to buy any 2018’s to drink (or age for that matter!), the wines of Chavy Chouet are perfect.


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