Arnot-Roberts (California, U.S.A.) – An Excerpt from April’s Wine Club Brochure

Published by Mark Andrew on 18/04/2013

By the mid-noughties, Californian wines had become boring. It seemed like all anyone wanted to do (with a few exceptions) was please Robert Parker and make densely concentrated, low acid wines with lashings of new oak. Anything in a heavy bottle tasted the same and the craze for these ‘cult wines’ was driving prices ever-upward. Many buyers, myself included, switched off from caring about California, but unbeknownst to us there was a small group of winemakers rallying against the massiveness. Now the revolution is fully underway and Arnot-Roberts are at the forefront…

Childhood friends Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot-Meyers founded their winery in 2001, after Nathan had spent years as a barrel maker (he now makes all the barrels for Arnot-Roberts) and Nathan had made wines at Caymus, Groth, Acacia and Kongsgaard.

Initially their focus was just on making great Californian wines, but when the cool 2005 vintage gave them wines in a more austere, high acid style than the region was used to, Nathan and Duncan reacted completely differently to practically everyone else in California – they loved them. Ever since then they have looked to source only cool climate fruit and minimise interventions, with a view to making wines that are pure, elegant and the antithesis of the souped-up fruit bombs that are still an all too common result of the points chasing culture that continues to dominate.

Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers

It was a couple of years ago that I heard about the rebellion that was starting to gather pace in California, with Raj Parr of Sandhi and Nathan and Duncan at Arnot-Roberts emerging as the poster boys for the backlash. Journalists like Eric Asimov (New York Times), Jon Bonné (SF Chronicle) and the USA’s natural wine champion Alice Feiring were talking up this new wave of subtle and understated wines, and the scramble was on to get allocations from the best producers.

I tasted a couple of the Arnot-Roberts wines while in the USA and was seriously impressed, but my attempts to get an allocation came to nothing. Then, last year, Alice Feiring gave a presentation at the Real Wine Fair about the ‘new California’ and among a group of stunning wines the Arnot-Roberts stood out as the most interesting. Again, I tried to get the wines but their 2,000 case production had sold out immediately after release. Our contact wasn’t a waste of time though, as when our shop manager Joe followed it up with another request for the wines just before the bottling, our persistence was rewarded with the first ever allocation of the wines for the UK market.

Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers

We were assigned small quantities of three cuvées, one of which has already sold out after a rogue salesman promised it all to one of our best restaurant clients. The others will be gone in the blink of an eye, but we made sure to put aside enough bottles of the Syrah for the members of the Wine Club.

The wine in this case is the 2011 Central Coast Syrah, which weighs in at a whopping 12.9% alcohol and is a blend of fruit from a few different plots (Nellessen, Griffin’s Lair, Alder Springs and Clary Ranch) in the cool climate zones of Sonoma and the Sierra Foothills. It is fermented using natural yeasts and aged in barrels for a year (a small percentage of them are new) before being bottled without fining or filtration and minimal sulphur. It’s a refreshing wine, both in how it tastes but most of all in what it represents – the new California has arrived.

Mark

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