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.