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No Assumptions : Broc Cellars

Will Motley

Chris Brockway sharing some of his badass mock-vin.

Chris Brockway sharing some of his badass mock-vin.

In a quiet, light-industrial neighborhood of Berkeley, CA, Chris Brockway makes expressive, highly drinkable natural wines from unheralded vineyards. Broc Cellars defies most people's idea of what a winery looks like or how it operates. And for those familiar with the past few decades of Californian wine, they defy many trends in taste, too.

Earlier this spring we caught up with Chris at his low-watt winery and got friendly with some of his newest wines.

Concrete eggs that are used for some of the picpoul & chenin blanc.

Concrete eggs that are used for some of the picpoul & chenin blanc.

Using outsider grape varieties like valdigué, picpoul, and counoise, as well more common Cali fruit such as syrah and zinfandel, Chris creates subtle and streamlined wines that never fail to surprise. The key is "picking early but not making picked early wines," he says. Wine that is lithe and acid driven without the awkward flawed qualities that plague many of his natural wine counterparts.

The high demand for Broc in places like New York and Tokyo have made his wines difficult to acquire. Especially considering his average production is a scant 6,000 cases.

That tiny production is also spread across 10 to 15 distinct bottlings, which exacerbates the availability woes. But he has a hard time saying no when he stumbles upon forgotten vineyards that he feels have something to say.

"What's drive-able in a day." That's his radius of vineyard sources. But any given one of those days may see him driving across several large counties to check on tiny and scattered vineyards, then return in the dark to manually bottle and label his bubbly cabernet franc so he can free up precious space in the winery. It's a constant process of monitor and adjust, and it's a labor of pure and passionate love.

Broc's cabernet franc pet-nat getting the finishing touches on the bottling line.

Broc's cabernet franc pet-nat getting the finishing touches on the bottling line.

Barrels at Broc Cellars in Berkeley
Valdiguie in barrel at Broc Cellars

An unlikely Nebraskan connection brought Broc wines to Nashville six years ago. We've been lucky to witness the arc of a talented winemaker coming into his own, developing his own language and style. It's a rare chance, and we have relished it.

These wines are not only delicious but remind us to question our assumptions, which can too easily calcify and detract from our ability to experience a wine on its own terms. Assumptions dull the shimmer of surprise and blot out curiosity. And if there is one thing Broc Cellars demands of its audience, it is an openness to be taken somewhere new.

Broc Cellars - Chris Brockway - Natural Wine