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Based out of Berkeley, California, Broc Cellars is an exciting winery, headed by winemaker Chris Brockway, that focuses on offbeat wines from intriguing and often much older vineyards. Their winemaking process uses only native yeasts with minimal doses of SO2 at bottling. These wines are fantastic and full of energy, frequently from areas off the more beaten California wine trails, with none of the weightier tendencies of California style but still bursting with exceptional fruit.
Of their myriad compelling wines we have five awesome and individualistic bottles to offer today. First is their entrancing 2016 Solano County Green Valley Chenin Blanc: sourced from the Frei vineyard in this small AVA, located halfway from Oakland to Sacramento, and just over the Vaca mountains from Napa, this Chenin Blanc is from a decidedly maritime climate, contributing to the freshness and energy I associate with all Broc Cellars wines.
Next we have a couple of reds from some different interesting grapes. The 2015 Eagle Point Ranch Counoise is made from one of the more obscure varieties found in the Southern Rhone. Sourced from Eagle Point Ranch in Mendocino, this is a surprisingly dense and structured wine. Eagle Point Ranch is located at 1800 feet above sea level in the Mayacamas mountains, planted on thin rocky soil rich in iron. The vineyard is certified organic and no pesticides or herbicides are used. Counoise is not well known for its body, structure, or tannin, hence its common use as a blending grape in France, but here Broc Cellars manages to make a firm and supple wine that elegantly displays some of Counoise's wild berry and herbal characteristics. We also have the 2016 Alexander Valley Carbonic Carignan, one of their most fascinating wines. The Oat Valley vineyard, situated on sandy (and thus phylloxera-proof) soils, was planted sometime around 1890, which means the vines are almost 130 years old! These old vines provide fruit of astonishing concentration that is then given an extremely fresh treatment through the use of carbonic maceration. This balance of depth and freshness is truly extraordinary, and gives us a wine that is excellent now but that can also age for up to a decade.
Broc Cellars produces one of my favorite new takes on a classic California grape in their 2015 Vine Starr Zinfandel, which remains full of Zinfandel fruit but tops out at a more reserved 13.3% alcohol. Again from two vineyards, Arrowhead in Sonoma and Buck Hill in Russian River, I am amazed by the incredible verve and energy of this wine (not things I always associate with Zin). Picked at low brix to highlight acidity, the melange of red and blue fruit is still strong here but it is presented like a coiled spring on the palate: taut and roiling with energy, with a blast of excitement on the surprising finish. The last and most southerly offering we have is one of the great summer quaffing wines coming from the west coast, the 2015 Santa Barbara Cabernet Franc. Happy Canyon is the hottest AVA in Santa Barbara, but becomes quite cool once the sun sets. The Crown Point vineyard whence the fruit for this wine was sourced lies between 500 and 1000 feet in elevation, with mostly serpentine soils composed of loam/clay loam with varying amounts of chert. This is a wine with incredibly ripe and juicy vivacity, with succulent cranberry and raspberry flavors. Whole cluster native yeast fermentation was done in 5 ton wooden vats, with a bit of foot treading in the morning and a gentle pumpover at night. As with all wines from Broc Cellars, this wine has the great energy and tight, controlled fruit character that I believe expresses honestly the joys and limpid clarity of California sunshine. Andrew Farquhar
This is Broc's first vintage making Chenin Blanc from the Frei vineyard in Solano County's Green Valley AVA, located across the Napa county line from Coombsville, in Napa's southeasternmost corner. Cooled by air from the San Pablo Bay, this small viticultural area has a decidedly maritime climate. This wine, aged in handmade puncheons crafted by Stockinger (one of Austria's, and Europe's, finest artisanal cooperages), has incredible reserve, with a nose of lemon pith, hay, and woolen mittens that is a harbinger of the sturdy structure and linear acidity to be found on the palate. 118 cases made. Andrew Farquhar
This wine is sourced from the Oat Valley Vineyard in Alexander Valley, which contains 130+ year old vines! The decomposed sandy soil here makes this site phylloxera-proof as well. Planted sometime around 1890, this extraordinarily old vineyard includes, in addition to Carignan, plantings of Palomino, Zinfandel, and Alicante. Thus, this wine's cepage is 85% Carignan, 10% Alicante, 4% Zinfandel, and 1% Palomino. The grapes are then fermented using full carbonic maceration, which, when combined with the crazy concentration from the old vine fruit, makes this wine an exciting and atypical blend of incredibly concentrated depth and bright freshness. Charred meat and bone broth intermingle with pomegranate, strawberry, and bright cranberry flavors on the palate. The general intensity of its flavors is immense, it feels like drinking an entire historical period in one glass. Andrew Farquhar
Counoise, here sourced from Eaglepoint Ranch located 1800 feet above the Ukiah Valley in Mendocino, is one of the rarer blending grapes from the Southern Rhone, and is not frequently made into single-varietal wines. But here Broc Cellars has created a beautiful wine that makes me excited to try and find more of this grape. Native yeast fermentation occurs in 5 ton open-top wood tronique, a tank that slants inward allowing more of the cap to remain in constant contact with the juice. This is followed by twelve months in 600-1200L old German casks. On the nose this Counoise has some dark fruit wrapped in a stylish melange of eucalyptus, sage, and baking spices. One the palate this wine is wonderfully savory, with animal hide, beef jerky, hoisin, and leather. Dark in fruit, medium in tannin, this wine is perfect for summer grilling but can be thrown in the cellar for a few years as well. Andrew Farquhar
The grapes for this wine were harvested on an autumn night from the Crown Point vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA east of Santa Barbara (between 500 to 1,000 feet in altitude). Happy Canyon is the warmest AVA in Santa Barbara, but experiences one of the largest diurnal shifts in all of California. Whole cluster natural yeast fermentation is followed by light foot treading in the morning and pump over at night. This extraordinarily juicy wine is a constant contrast between super sunny fruit and the crackling energy of cold nights. The predominant fruits are cranberry and raspberry, and this wine drinks like an aristocratic cousin of Ocean Spray. At 11.9% ABV, this is a fantastic light red to serve with a slight chill throughout the decidedly un-refreshing humid nights of summertime in New York. Pair with your favorite dishes to serve at rooftop parties, backyard barbecues, or park picnics. Andrew Farquhar
This is a fantastic Zinfandel. The varietal character remains but the alcohol has been brought to heel and the structure is resoundingly more crystalline than many of the soupier 16% ABV offerings on the market. A coiled spring, with an array of black and red berry fruits and still moderately dense with tannin, there is a fine black pepper note on the palate and the finish begins with a burst of red fruit complexity that surprised me. There is a note of funkiness brought to it by the volcanic soils of the two vineyards: Arrowhead in Sonoma and Buck Hill in Russian River. This Zin is destemmed, fermented in stainless steel and concrete, and aged for ten months in neutral oak. A great wine on its own, this would be a fine partner to steak, meatball marinara, or blood sausage. Andrew Farquhar