Chris Brockway, California Winemaker: "I'm trying to make wines closer to how they were made in California maybe 30 to 40 years ago. Throwback wines, in a sense."
Who doesn’t love a good throwback? When I think of California in the 70s, I see a scattering of sun-soaked images – young skateboarders, tanned caramel brown with hay-colored mops of untamed hair, fresh scabs and no shirts, unknowingly kick-flipping and ollie’ing their way to iconoclastic status, thanks to the forecasting eye of Hugh Holland.
Venice Beach, empty swimming pools, a perpetual golden hour that seems to suspend both time and emotion – it’s all very West Coast sexy and fleeting.
Thankfully, Broc’s Love White lasts longer than that sunny era, more tangible than that short-lived moment when the sky goes from blue to honey and then to even darker blue. You can hold on to its warming, yellow glow in the glass, savor the burst of yellow plum and pineapple on your tongue, essence captured and witnessed, like a perfectly-timed photograph. This wine is spilling with ripe fruits and aromatics but it is totally lean, with structure and a firm kind of ripe so that it’s abundant but not mushy. A wine that has depth and balance; a quenching, perfectly tropical retreat in the middle of the work week.
I love that Broc’s wines are inspired by the past, when wines were made differently than they have been in contemporary oenological California. His don’t chase alcohol or big, fake body, or commercial appeal, and he’s also not trying to “out-weird” anyone, either.
His winemaking style is just hands off, focused more on the organic and biodynamic farming than the post-production aspect. The facility has very little modern equipment – grapes are crushed by foot and fermentation happens spontaneously, with only native yeasts, mostly in old wood or two giant concrete egg-shaped vessels – all minimal intervention.
It’s this traditional, good winemaking practice that yields so much tastier, more enjoyable wines – wines that are unadulterated and so satisfying, without being simple. Like how Farrah Fawcett is more than just a blonde.
"I like wines to be on a table," Chris says. "And I'm trying to make those wines as pure and transparent as possible."
The Love White is a blend of Southern Rhone grapes – Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier. Anything made with Viognier – especially in Cali – can tend toward being overly floral, a little trashy, and just too rich for their own good, in my experience (Tara Reid comes to mind).
But not all blondes are created equal. Sure, a lot of them are fake and poorly-enhanced, but this one is as perfectly natural, feminine and relaxed as Farrah on a skateboard, wearing a pair of Nike Cortez and that famous flip (hair not skateboard trick).
While this isn’t some laser-like, grassy Sancerre that is intensely and rippingly acidic, it is honest and pure. There is an ease and playfulness about it, with substance.
The Broc winery is a 1400 sq foot space in the heart of urban Berkeley across the street from a motorcycle repair shop. Instead of the typical image of sprawling rows of vines and rural silence, there’s traffic and factories and a train that passes on occasion to remind you that this is a city.
Chris sticks to the philosophy that a wine’s true character results from growing grapes in tougher, cooler climates where the vines have to actually struggle to ripen and survive. That mode of survival – digging deeper into the earth for hydration, sacrificing some fruit for the nutrient health of the fruit that remains, old age – it all imparts a complexity and character into the end wine that you just can’t manufacture.
He is so right, and this approach has been too-often ignored by some of the big dogs of Cali winemaking; it’s a lot easier to grow Cabernet and Zin in mass quantities. But the result won’t ever be as enchanting, or quite frankly, as damn drinkable.
I imagine Chris, had he been making wine back in the 70s, would have found common ground with those skate kids and embraced the drought as opportunity not obstacle. Turning the surplus of empty swimming pools into vessels to ferment his Picpoul and Southern Rhone varietals, those same kids would be rail-riding and tail-sliding out back in the abandoned parking lot. The scraping drag of board against concrete would be the only natural and proper soundtrack for his asphalt winery.
THE CHEAT SHEET
THE WINE: Broc Cellars ‘Love White’ Madera County, California 2014
THE GRAPE: Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, all organically farmed.
HOMETOWN: Madera County, 60 miles south of Yosemite and 1350 ft above sea-level.
TASTES LIKE: Fruit forward with yellow plum, tropical fruits, waxy citrus and golden nectar vibes; round and fleshy without being heavy or rich.
GOES DOWN EASY WITH: Hard to pair foods like artichoke, asparagus and garlic do really well with this quaffer; yellow curry, chickpeas and green peas with ham; I love it with avocado and chili flakes on toast. Yes, for lunch. I drink wine at lunch ok?
IF YOU LIKE: Southern Rhone white blends, clean and traditional in style, you’ll love this Cali version.