Decanter umfjöllun um Arnot Roberts

Matthew Luczy

27. júl. 2020

Arnot-Roberts: producer profile
One of California’s most influential wineries…

Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts' winery began life
with a 'hobby vintage' in 2001... it now produces more than 7,000
cases a year. Matthew Luczy gets the lowdown.

Of the many start-up California wineries that have risen to prominence in
the 2000s, few have achieved the influence, breadth of development and
prolific line-up of Arnot-Roberts.
After one hobby vintage in 2001 of old-vine Zinfandel and an additional year
getting their fledgling Arnot-Roberts label off the ground, Duncan Arnot
Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts now produce between 7,000 and 8,000 cases
a year across 23 different fruit sources.
Through an ever-expanding roster of vineyards throughout California, the
pair hang their hats on a pure and seemingly effortless line-up of wines that
accurately represent their origins.

Meyers and Roberts have known each other since they were eight years’ old,
both born and raised in Napa. Meyers grew up around wineries before stints
working at Caymus, Groth and Acacia. Roberts drives the business and
logistics side of the operation, after helping his father who worked as a
barrel cooper. Caitlin Quinn serves as ‘10 employees in one’, coming aboard
as assistant winemaker in 2014.
When Meyers and Nathan founded their winery, they were in the middle of
educating themselves in wines beyond California. ‘Our palates evolved in
lock-step,’ says Meyers. Kermit Lynch and other San Francisco Bay Area
wine merchants became a regular part of their lives, providing exposure to
the Jura’s Jacques Puffeney and Syrah benchmarks such as Cornas’ Thierry
Allemand and Côte-Rôtie’s Domaine Jamet at a time when their wines were
more easily available, not to mention affordable.

Back then, some 20 years ago, much of California – largely deservedly – had
a reputation for producing overripe, fruit-driven, high-alcohol wines. On the
tail of this peak came a correction of sorts, with the rise of small production
wineries focusing on progressively more extreme coastal sites, working
towards a more European-influenced balance and grace with their wines.

‘Quieter’ wines

That said, it’s easy for the pendulum to swing hard the other way. The
mindset of picking early, extracting less and easing up on new oak were
initial solutions to counteracting ripeness, but there is a difference between
a lean wine and a thin one, a bright wine and a shrill one.
Humans are, to some degree, calibrated to notice and enjoy ‘more’ as being
‘better’. An interesting corollary to this, referred to as The Loudness Wars,
occurred in the music industry – at the same time as the ripeness levels in
much of popular California wine peaked.
Our ears perceive ‘louder’ as ‘better’ as well. When a louder song is played on
the heels of a quieter one, the latter song comes across as more impressive,
and its chances of becoming a hit increase. This is achieved through the use
of compression, which can raise the overall volume of a song during the
mastering process but, in turn, also reduces its dynamic range. Less
complexity and nuance, more in-your-face volume.
This is physically fatiguing on the ears as much as hot, unbalanced wines dull
the palate. The volume level is locked into the music forever, whereas wine is
a living, evolving liquid. As primary fruit flavours evolve into secondary and
tertiary ones, a wine that’s already warm in alcohol will become downright
hot, and the wine will become progressively more and more out of balance as
time goes on.
The balance and poise of the Arnot-Roberts wines is a result of careful
handling of fruit sourced from vineyards farther and farther west towards
the Pacific Ocean. While balance and beauty can still be achieved from
warmer sites, the cooler temperatures, diurnal swings and extended
hang-time these grapes receive render flavourful, complete wines.

‘Fighting fatness’

Meyers’ approach in the winery is, as is an increasingly common response
across California, ‘hands off’. The white wines are direct-pressed, fermented
in stainless steel, transferred directly to neutral wood, then back to tanks for
two weeks before bottling.
If the wine’s lees haven’t settled on their own, they will give a light filtering.
The entire 2018 line-up of whites weren’t filtered with the exception of the
workhorse Watson Ranch Chardonnay. Meyers feels ‘the whites benefit from
cross-flow filtration before bottling’, retaining tension, energy and
freshness. Excess suspended lees gives an extra fatness to the texture they
don’t believe is needed in California, where ‘fighting fatness’ is already
proactive. ‘It’s never going to be Chablis,’ notes Meyers. ‘Let’s just make the
best version of California that we can.
A new addition to the Arnot-Roberts line-up is Chardonnay sourced from
the original vines at Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills. As a
Sonoma-based winery, Meyers and Roberts initially told themselves that
working with Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards was ‘as far south as we can
go’. That changed when the vineyard manager at Sanford & Benedict called
out of the blue, informing them that 0.4ha of the own-rooted, dry-farmed
vines planted in 1971 was available.
A poll was taken of some local winemakers to see who would be the best
recipient and Arnot-Roberts was chosen. Meyers said he and Roberts
jumped at the chance: ‘The vineyard is in such good hands and farmed so
impeccably.’ The grapes are picked at midnight, loaded onto a refrigerated
truck, and arrive at the Arnot-Roberts facility by 2pm the same day.

Embracing lighter reds

The red wines are fermented whole-cluster and aged in neutral wood with a
few exceptions depending on specific vintage conditions.
While Arnot-Roberts entered the California wine scene making the
fuller-bodied, higher-alcohol reds in vogue at the time, they would come to
embrace the lighter styles. ‘We haven’t fully realised our potential in
California for light-bodied red wine,’ says Meyers.
One of the winery’s most popular releases is the North Coast Trousseau. ‘We
started making Trousseau after a long search to find the grape, after really
enjoying wines from [Jacques] Puffeney and [Michel] Gahier in the Jura. It lit
a fire under us and we asked: “Why isn’t more of this kind of wine made in
California?”’
They hunted for two years, asking at wineries, vineyard managers and
nurseries. Finally they got the phone number of Bernie Luschinger who was
growing what he knew as Bastardo in Clear Lake AVA and selling it to
producers for Port-style fortified wines.
Meyers and Roberts convinced him to part with one tonne of fruit at first,
and later the whole vineyard, after impressing him with their final product.
Arnot-Roberts’ North Coast Trousseau is still based on this fruit but now
includes other sources, planted in large part due to the wines’ popularity.
A cornerstone of the Arnot-Roberts label is the trio of Syrahs. The Sonoma
Coast blend is an introduction to a more delicate side of the varietal than
many are aware is possible to produce, on either side of the Atlantic.
The two single-vineyard wines are among the finest Syrahs produced in
California. The Clary Ranch bottling is a stunning, ethereal, enthralling wine.
The fruit is harvested as late as 20 November, with a potential alcohol of just
11%, serving as an extreme example of the importance of hang-time in
marginal climates.

Syrah pinnacle

The winery’s ‘crown jewel’ is the 0.8ha Que Syrah Vineyard site outside
Occidental. Planted in 1993 by Erhen Jordan of Failla Wines (and formerly
Marcassin), it’s the Sonoma Coast’s oldest Syrah site.
Arnot-Roberts’ Que Syrah bottling exchanges the striking savoury aromas
and texture of the Clary Ranch with more floral, dense and flashy notes,
showing off its substance, breadth and width. Roberts acquired this parcel in
its entirety, and it now functions as his home and the unofficial estate site.
Credit: Arnot-Roberts
The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is another mainstay for the pair, and some of
their workhorse wines are sourced here. These include a Chardonnay from
pure sand soils at Trout Gulch Vineyard, and the wild, rustic Peter Martin
Ray Pinot Noir from head-trained, own-rooted vines. ‘They’re basically bush
vines,’ says Meyers. ‘You would never see another Pinot Noir vineyard like
this planted now. It’s a real anomaly.’
The Cabernet Sauvignon from Fellom Vineyard, across the road from Monte
Bello, is reminiscent of Cabernet produced in decades past. It shows the
consistently wild character of this California terroir.
The breadth of their vineyard contracts shows off the diversity of the state’s
subregions, both with classic and esoteric varieties. Half their production
goes out to their private mailing list and the other half into global
distribution, with 70% of that ending up on restaurant wine lists.
The pair are an integral part of a growing wine movement in California that
champions restraint and purity – the momentum of which has shifted both
the landscape and expectations of what the state can deliver. Arnot-Roberts
represents a forward-thinking era of winemaking in the US and the scramble
to secure them on release is testament to their quality and popularity.

Arnot-Roberts: a timeline

2001 Arnot-Roberts founded; Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee
Roberts produce one ‘hobby’ vintage of old-vine Zinfandel
2002 First commercial vintage released
2003 Production moves to Pax Wine Cellars in Santa Rosa where it
remains until 2007
2006 First vintage of Clary Ranch Syrah; interest in Trousseau begins
2008 Production moves to their own facility in Forestville
2009 First vintage of Trousseau
2011 Production moves to current location in Healdsburg
2013 First vintage of Que Syrah Vineyard Syrah; vineyard bought in 2016
2014 Caitlinn Quinn hired as assistant winemaker
2018 ‘Elected’ to receive fruit to produce their first vintage of Sanford &
Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay

Arnot-Roberts: the facts

Owners Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts
Founded 2001
Winery HQ Healdsburg, California
Production 7,000-8,000 cases
Vineyards 19ha of long-term leases across 23 sources. Que Syrah Vineyard
is owned by Roberts.
Wines 20 labels across many varieties: Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla,
Falanghina, Rosé of Touriga Nacional, Trousseau, Gamay, Pinot Noir,
Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Arnot-Roberts: 14 top wines:

Arnot-Roberts, Trout Gulch Vineyard
Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains,
California, 2012

Just 6.5km inland from the Pacific Ocean, Trout Gulch Vineyard was
planted to Chardonnay (Wente clone) on pure sand in 1980. As is
standard practice for the Arnot-Roberts whites, it was fermented in
stainless steel and aged for 10 months in neutral barriques. At eight
years old it's in the secondary phase of its life: aromas of saffron,
cinnamon and hazelnuts then flavours of parmesan, yellow apples
and honeyed pastries which transition into a soft, delectable finish.
Decanter rating 94
Drinking Window 2020 - 2027

Arnot-Roberts, Sanford & Benedict
Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Barbara
County, California, 2018

In 2018 just one tonne of the original, own-rooted, dry-farmed
Chardonnay vines planted at Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1971
became available for lease, and Arnot-Roberts was 'elected' by a local
producers to be the recipients of this prized fruit. The nose
immediately shows off the signature mossy, river-rock minerality this
site exudes. This tension carries through the palate, melding citrus
and stone-fruit flavours with a subtle, creamy power. Decanter rating 93
Drinking Window 2020 - 2040

Arnot-Roberts, Watson Ranch
Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2018

Sourced from the southernmost vineyard in Napa County, often tapped
as a source for sparkling wines, Arnot-Roberts’ bottling of Watson
Ranch Chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral
French oak for 10 months. The nose is clean and focused, showing
jasmine, lemon meringue and freshly baked pastries that lead to a
taught, structured palate. Hold this wine for the next couple of years for
a touch more richness to come to the fore. Decanter rating 92
Drinking Window 2022 - 2032

Arnot-Roberts, Vare Vineyard Ribolla
Gialla, Napa Valley, California, 2018

Planted in 2001 by George Vare at the eastern base of Mount Veeder in
the Mayacamas Range, with suitcase-cuttings sourced from Friuli’s
legendary Josko Gravner. Fermented in stainless steel and aged for 10
months in neutral French oak. Aromas of dried apricots, orchids and
pine sap. The palate combines softness with a fine, centred lift. Firm,
brambly flavours of anise and tonic appear on the finish. Will come into
its own in a few years after it puts on some weight. Decanter rating 93
Drinking Window 2022 - 2032

Arnot-Roberts, Heinstein Vineyard Old
Vine White, Sonoma Valley, California,
2018

This site, planted in 1954, is a dry-farmed field blend of predominantly
Riesling mixed with Sylvaner, Colombard, Gewurztraminer and
Trousseau Gris, as well as a small portion of unidentified vines. The
Heinstein vineyard was rescued by a small group of winemakers to
prevent these old vines from being ripped up. Aromas of orange oil and
honeysuckle give way to flavours of salted marcona almonds and
lavender. Simultaneously both old-school and new-school California. Decanter rating 92
Drinking Window 2020 - 2030

Arnot-Roberts, Clary Ranch Syrah,
Sonoma Coast, 2018

The 2018 Clary Ranch Syrah was harvested on 9 November and has just
11% alcohol! This is perhaps the most extreme Syrah site in California,
and the resulting wine a world-class one. Its nose is extremely savoury
and definitive of the variety, with notes of beef jerky, mesquite and
cardamom that continue on the palate, which simultaneously has the
weight of a feather but lasting substance and structure. This wine
perpetually evolved and unfolded over 72 hours, and is a great example
of what is now being achieved with Syrah in California. Decanter rating 96
Drinking Window 2020 - 2035

Arnot-Roberts, Que Syrah Vineyard
Syrah, Sonoma Coast, 2018

Que Syrah Vineyard was planted in 1993 6.5lm off the Pacific near
Occidental, and is now owned by Nathan Roberts. It was 25%
destemmed, basket-pressed and aged in neutral French oak for 11
months. Compared to the Clary Ranch bottling, this is a deeper,
broader Syrah but sacrifices none of that same grace, nuance or detail.
A knockout nose of charcoal embers, blackberry compote, conifer and
hibiscus and the palate continuously bounces between juicy, succulent,
floral and roasted notes. A truly remarkable Syrah! Decanter rating 96
Drinking Window 2020 - 2040

Arnot-Roberts, Syrah, Sonoma Coast,
California, 2018

This Sonoma Coast Syrah is a blend of four sites, all fermented whole
cluster and aged half in concrete tanks and half in neutral barriques for
10 months. The nose shows high-toned red plums, black cherries and
allspice. The palate is precise and savoury, full of leather, sage and and
espresso characters. A charming Syrah with a Pinot Noir heart. Decanter rating 93
Drinking Window 2020 - 2032

Arnot-Roberts, Peter Martin Ray
Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz
Mountains, 2018

Dry-farmed, head-trained Pinot Noir was planted at 430m in the Peter
Martin Ray Vineyard in the late 1970s. This vintage shows notes of dried
leaves, red liquorice and tobacco. There is a rich, burliness to the
texture that I find consistent throughout Santa Cruz Mountain Pinots,
of which this is a definitive example. This bottle was delicious well into
its third day of being open – a sure sign of a long, vibrant life ahead. Decanter rating95
Drinking Window 2020 - 2035

Arnot-Roberts, Trousseau, North Coast,
California, 2018

The Trousseau for this vintage mainly comes from the Clear Lake AVA,
with smaller portions from Fort Ross-Seaview and Green Valley. It's
fermented whole cluster, basket-pressed and aged in neutral barriques
for eight months. Aromas of dried fruit, brown sugar and rust lead to a
fine-grained, weightless palate of golden raisins, white pepper and
cranberry skins. A poised, rustic and beautiful example of a variety
gaining ground in California, in large part due to Arnot-Roberts. Decanter rating 93
Drinking Window 2020 - 2028

Arnot-Roberts, Gamay Noir, Sierra
Foothills, El Dorado, California, 2018

A blend of two high-elevation sites in the Sierra Foothills: Barsotti
Vineyard (795m) and Witters Vineyard (1,005m). Wild, rustic nose of red
plums, pepper and dried flowers then svelte palate that is broad and
subtly tannic on the finish. These mountainous sites bring a sturdy,
brambly quality to what is an often underrated variety. Singular and
delicious. Decanter rating 92
Drinking Window 2020 - 2030

Arnot-Roberts, Clajeaux Vineyard
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chalk Hill,
California, 2017

About 15% of the fruit was left on stems during fermentation and the
wine was aged for 22 months in 20% new French oak. The Clajeaux
Vineyard is on volcanic soil above the Russian River Valley in the Chalk
Hill AVA. The nose is dusty and loaded with dried herb and flower
notes, while the palate is supple, round and expansive, with lavender
and damp earth on the finish. A classic cool-climate Cabernet made
with restraint. Decanter rating 95
Drinking Window 2020 - 2050

Arnot-Roberts, Fellom Ranch Cabernet
Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains,
California, 2017
Across the road from the Ridge's famous Monte Bello Vineyard, Fellom
Ranch was planted in 1979 on shale and loam. This 2017 vintage was
basket pressed and aged in 15% new French oak for 22 months. An
earthy nose of sage, oregano and tobacco leads to a palate that is
dark-fruited and powerful. This is a rich California Cabernet that still
finds a happy home in a portfolio of understated, nuanced wines. Decanter rating 94
Drinking Window 2020 - 2045