Californian Trailblazers – Innovation and Experimentation along the US West Coast
California is such an exciting place to discover wine. It is established enough to produce some of the best wine in the world – there is a whole crop of producers who have made a lasting impact on the worldwide stage and are classics in their own right - Kongsgaard and Domaine de la Cote to name just two.
Yet what is amazing about California is the innovation and experimentation. Someone somewhere is always turning heads, ruffling feathers and at times going against the grain to produce something new. Sometimes the road less travelled leads to something wonderful. These producers and their wines are trailblazers.
Linked to this blog is a ensemble of terrific wines, collected together because they are a bit different, all are wonderful, some are super premium, others are playful mid-week treats. But what unites them is what sets them apart - they are all doing something a bit quirky, all taking their own path - all trailblazers.
As seven-time winners of US Wine Specialist of the year Roberson are no strangers to some of the very best wines to come out of California. We are extremely lucky to work with some of the most exciting producers in the region and our fine wine team often gets their hands on some of the most sought-after labels. We are very proud to showcase some of the most innovative and exciting producers in California. We champion these forward-thinking pioneers and place them centre stage for our customers to discover and enjoy the amazing wines they produce.
Whether it is attempting to completely redefine the typical ‘Californian style’, experiment with a lesser-known variety or reinterpreting traditional winemaking methods – our producers try it all. Here are just a few examples of the trailblazing efforts coming out of California right now.
The ‘New-ish’ Californian Style
For some time now Californian producers have moved towards picking grapes at a lower ripeness. They have been seeking out cooler vineyards in order to achieve a higher acidity and an elevating freshness to the wines. This is a clear move away from the ripe baked fruit style of big Californian wines gone by.
Is a prime example of a lighter fresher style wine. Almost Beaujolais in style the wine undergoes carbonic maceration (effectively inside out fermentation of grapes using carbon dioxide and pressurised tanks) this softens the tannins and can enhance flavours in a lighter wine. This is not something many in California would have been doing 10 years ago.
Winemaker Sashi Moorman of Sandhi wine fame showcases just how amazing cool climate Syrah can be. Yes lighter in style but not sacrificing any complexity of richness or fruit. Using just a bit of extra vineyard altitude gives the wine a freshness - so clearly cooled by the Pacific coast breeze.
Crack Open a Can
This wine encapsulates the innovative style of Broc Cellars. An unusual blend of 72% Carignan, 20% Valdiguié and 8% Syrah all packaged in a nifty half bottle sized can. The canned wine revolution is still in its infancy but the environmental benefits and the practicalities mean all the cool wineries are doing it - from Broc Cellars to our very own London Cru canned spritz.
Modern twists on neglected grapes
The likes of both Cruse Wine Co. and Jolie Laide are not afraid to take potentially neglected grape varieties and use them in exciting ways. Tannat while heavily planted in Uruguay has lost prominence in France and Valdiguié also referred to the Napa-Gamay has often being overlooked in favour of grapes that can produce bigger and more powerful wines. As lighter styles are becoming more popular a revival of these grapes has occurred, in Rosé, Pet Nat and Beaujolais styles.
A lovely pink hue, persistent mousse, with flavours of watermelon, wild yeasts and an earthy character.
A fully but delicate wine with silly soft tannins a far cry from the southern French style.
Beautifully soft red fruits a gorgeous colour and far too easy to drink.
Old Vine, New Wine
Here is a wine that showcases experimental winemaking approaches. Taking a rugged, now neglected old-world varietal, and using carbonic maceration to revitalise this grape.
Collaboration is key
Finally, a strong theme of trailblazers in California - collaboration. Obviously many pioneers got it alone and forge a independent path, but others surround themselves with likeminded people, equally adventurous and passionate about wine.
Here is a Riesling from Tatomer which shows all the hallmarks of a winemaker who cut his teeth in the prestigious Riesling wine regions of Austria and who owes much of his success to the relationships he made and the skills he learnt in the region.
Here is a collaboration at its very best. From the super-successful Sandhi collaboration is a Blanc de Blanc which has been sent to Michael Cruse for second-fermentation. This wine has passed through the hands of two incredibly talented wine makes - what a treat!