Nashville, this is big. Here's why you might care.
By Scott Lyon
In 2012, when the San Francisco Chronicle handed their Winemakers of the Year award to Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, the two hometown boys behind Sonoma's Arnot-Roberts winery, California still seemed to be in the midst of a timid transition from the old guard to something new.
For decades, winemakers across the state had been consolidating toward two basic kinds of wine: schlock so heavily manipulated by chemo-industrial interventions they earned scary nicknames like Frankenwine (most of what you find at the grocery store), and elitist cult wines that fetishize hyper-ripeness at the expense of any and all subtlety. But beginning around the middle of the oughts a new kind of winemaker emerged from beneath the crushing weight of those trends. They were a loose group, bound simply by the desire to make honest wine that fixed itself to the revolutionary idea of balance. And by 2012 this loose group of producers had made one small but significant gain after another, finding fans in small pockets of the wine world and inching into the consciousness of the consumer public.
Whether or not this award had any real affect on the future of that movement, at the very least we can point to this moment in 2012 and say the new guard, far beyond simple reactionaries, had begun to reshape the contours of California winemaking.
Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts grew up in Napa. Their friendship first crystallized in youth around cycling. They still ride together over and across the hills they first traversed as kids.* What they see in those hills is the long tradition of their home place, the potential it has always held, and unfortunately the rampant profiteering of wealthy outsiders that has distracted from said tradition and potential.
And so Arnot-Roberts has come to embody, and in many ways represent, the very highest achievement of this movement. It is not merely a compelling philosophical bent, nor a novel approach to an old problem, nor just damn good wine — Arnot-Roberts is all three. Sound of heart, sound of mind, and really, really good.
Their Clary Ranch Syrah single-handedly changed the way the wine world understood where and how the syrah variety could be grown in Sonoma. They extended the possible influences for North Coast vintners, with their trend-setting Trousseau, to the high-altitude masters of the Jura like Jean-Francois Ganevat. Their Sierra Foothills Gamay harkens an entirely new take on that variety, unlike gamay from either Beaujolais or the eastern Loire — the grape's two main regions of origin — but something that speaks in a charming vernacular all its own.
I don't want to leave you with the wrong impression, that these are simply "important" wines that people like me think you should like. They might be that, but really that's beside the point. Because while we can nod to the Arnot-Roberts rise to prominence as a significant moment for California wine, their recent arrival to Nashville is a significant moment for me and us and you. It's a piece of the New California puzzle we've been advocating to get for years. It's happened. These wines are awesome. And they're here. They will knock you down and pick you back up again. Try it. It's all in the balance.
*Source: Jon Bonné, The New California Wine (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2013), 13, 263.
Sierra Foothills, CA
North Coast, CA
Arnot-Roberts Clary Ranch Syrah
Sonoma Coast, CA
Arnot-Roberts Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon
Chalk Hill, CA