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Join Keith, Sara, and Josh on Roberson's annual trip to California. In Part 1, we dive into Santa Barbara, catching up with some of the stars of our Cali portfolio. 

Here at Roberson, we're BIG on Californian wines - so much so, we've bagged Decanter's ‘USA Specialist of the Year’ award seven times. We make the transatlantic journey at least once a year, eager to check in with the winemakers we admire, scout for new talent, and keep our finger on the pulse of the trends shaping this dynamic wine scene.

Many of our regulars are already well acquainted with the New Wave style of winemaking that we've become known for championing and introducing to the UK. This movement, heralded in Jon Bonné's seminal 2013 book, "The New California Wine – A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste," signals a shift towards elegance, restraint, and sophistication in Californian wines, a style that once stood in the shadows of its over-extracted, oak-heavy counterparts. This New Wave leans towards higher acidity, lower alcohol content, and a nuanced expression of terroir.

Far from being a 'new' trend, this well-established wave continues to shape the California wine scene. Despite the challenges the region has faced - including devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2020, recent floods as well as a late fruit set this year - the resilience and innovation we've witnessed over the last years has been inspiring. Winemakers, unfettered by the traditions and rules, are freely experimenting, pushing boundaries, and crafting daring wines.

Our sizeable portfolio meant this year's trip was no leisurely tour, but a whirlwind adventure that clocked some serious miles. Under Keith's experienced guidance, Sara and I, first-timers in Cali, navigated from the sun-drenched slopes of Santa Barbara to the rugged landscapes of Napa's Atlas Peak. We braved ocean fog and heat spikes, armed with a car radio blasting classic rock and a generous stash of Cheetos. But this wasn't just a road trip; it was a classic Roberson-style twist on the conventional, and an unforgettable journey into the heart of California's exciting wine revolution. So, pour yourself a glass of Californian, turn up the Springsteen, and read on for the highlights.


Kunin Wines, Tatomer Wines, Donnachadh, Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte & Piedrasassi 

Our adventure began and concluded in Santa Barbara County, a vibrant embodiment of Bonné's 'New California'. A scenic drive away from the frenetic heartbeat of LA, the laid-back city of Santa Barbara presented a much-welcomed change of pace. This coastal city, fondly dubbed 'America’s Riviera', has long-been a magnet for celebrities such as Oprah, Jeff Bridges, and even Harry and Meghan. Bursting with bustling farmers' markets, incredible restaurants, inviting coffee shops, and a thriving community of ground-breaking winemakers, its allure is undeniable.

The county's unique geography is its secret sauce. Its east-to-west transverse valley, the longest of its kind on the western Pacific coast, acts as a conduit for cool ocean breezes to course into vineyard regions like Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Valley. This cool conduit extends the growing season and yields wines of balanced acidity and ripeness. Trust us, you can feel it in the air – and in the glass.

Santa Barbara is a wine lover's paradise, offering sophisticated wines that retain a fresh minerality. Though Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah dominate, the warmer inland areas also cultivate successful Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. Our early visits took us from Kunin, in the city, to Graham Tatomer's vineyard in the lofty Sta. Rita Hills. After navigating Napa, Sonoma, and much of the central coast, we looped back to Lompoc & Los Olivos in Santa Barbara. Here, we caught up with the family behind Donnachadgh - a rising Sta.Rita star. Our journey ended with a stop at the doorstep of Sashi Moorman, the visionary winemaker behind Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte, and Piedrasassi . With a subtle yet profound influence, Sashi's thoughtful approach to winemaking is having a ripple effect on California's wine trajectory and its standing on the global stage.

Kunin: Rhône and Loire-inspired wines from the heart of Santa Barbara

Kunin Wines' new tasting room is nestled in Santa Barbara's historic Presidio neighbourhood. Here, amidst the city's classic Spanish architecture, we were left as impressed as ever by Magan Eng’s Rhône and Loire-inspired wines. Thrown into the deep end following her husband Seth’s untimely passing in 2017, Magan has taken the reins and shown herself to be a force to be reckoned with. Under difficult conditions, she's not only upheld Seth's legacy but has also managed to take Kunin Wines a notch higher. High praise and top scores for her first vintages, along with the broader recognition that Kunin Wines continues to receive, are testament to her grit and the exciting path she's charting for the winery.

Tatomer: Cool climate favourites from the back of a pick-up, California Style

The ever-enthusiastic Graham Tatomer greeted us at the foot of his San Sebastiano vineyard high up in the breezy Sta. Rita Hills. Driving up amongst steeply sloped vineyards, we were given a stark reminder of the 2020 wildfires – swathes of blackened ground painting a dramatic backdrop. It was there, straight from the back of his pick-up truck under the bright Californian sun, where we tasted his stellar range of wines - a testament to his exceptional winemaking talent. A lover of Austrian styles, Graham's passion lies in crafting wines that highlight the unique qualities of their cold sites, resulting in Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Noir filled with light, nuanced flavours, and bracing acidity.

Donnachadh: A rising Sta.Rita Star  

Under the hot California sun, we were greeted by Drew, Laurie, and Vilma at the base of the Sta.Rita Donnachadh estate. Despite the heat and the steep, sweat-inducing incline, we decided to brave the 40% slopes to the top of the vines. Climbing up the hill was a workout we hadn’t signed up for, but the payoff? Panoramic views of vineyards sprawling across Santa Barbara. Having caught our breath, we tasted through their lineup of wines, expertly crafted by winemaker Ernst Storm. The hype is real; critics and wine buffs are calling Donnachadh future superstars. We’re proud to represent them in the UK – they're definitely worth a climb. 

Sashi Moorman: The winemaking wizard behind DDLC, Sandhi and Piedrasassi

Meetings with Sashi Moorman always deliver. This winemaking maestro has been impressing us with his tireless passion and talent for a decade, and our latest encounter in Lompoc was no exception. Greeting us with his usual warmth, Sashi led us on a tour of the stunning Sta. Rita Hills, his expert commentary bringing the region's diverse terroir to life. We hung on his every word as he detailed the crafting of his Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi range - exceptional wines we're proud to have imported for years. As business partners, Sashi and the famed sommelier Raj Parr are a formidable duo, their commitment to the expressive, 'New California' style of winemaking evident in every bottle produced. Sashi's zeal is more than just talk, it’s an infectious enthusiasm that can be tasted in each sip. 


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Awards & Press Our Latest Awards

Decanter Best Specialist Retailer USA 2022,  Decanter and IWC Specialist Merchant of the Year 2019 for our USA range.

Decanter Retailer Awards | Best USA Specialist
International Wine Challenge 2019 | Specialist Merchant of the Year USA

Roberson has 'bust out dancing' from the pandemic, its USA range outstanding in California but also beyond, and its achingly cool events featuring Californian tacos, live graffiti and 'the sweet beat of retro vinyl'.

Decanter Retailer Awards 2022