“It’s good to have a partner you’ve known since second grade,” Duncan Arnot-Meyers told me at the end of the 2007 harvest. He was referring to his collaborator and childhood friend Nathan Roberts, a second generation cooper, who was off building the French oak barrels they’d use for the new vintage of Arnot-Roberts. As kids the duo rode bikes around the rugged eastern hills of Napa Valley, taking in the landscape and the culture of wine that surrounded them. They made their first wine in 2001, an old vine Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, in the backyard. In 2003 they started getting a bit more serious; they bought some Syrah from the famed Hudson Vineyard in Carneros and Duncan took a job with the renown John Kongsgaard.
“I learned a lot from John,” Duncan told me. “I learned how to tame Syrah, how to detect nuance in the wine. With him it was more about the abstract, big picture—looking at wine like music with its ups and downs.” Those lessons, and those Duncan took away from working as the assistant winemaker at Pax Wine Cellars, carry over into the wines he and Nathan make today. But the wines are not like Kongsgaard’s, nor are they like the wines he helped make at Pax. The Arnot-Roberts wines are unto themselves, mostly single-vineyard expressions of some of the coolest climates in Sonoma and Napa counties. They are wines with energy and cut that carry the stamp of the vineyards they came from. And they aren’t masked by high alcohol or overpowering oak. “Nothing is worse than a monolithic varietal wine—we prefer to let the dirt speak for itself, says Duncan.
Arnot-Roberts is currently making about 1,200 cases of wine a year out of a funky pre-Prohibition winery building in Forestville. In addition to their line-up exceptional Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays, they’ve been experimenting with less familiar varietals like Ribolla Gialla and Trousseau. We currently carry two of their wines:
2009 Arnot-Roberts “Green Island Vineyard” Napa Valley Chardonnay ($29.99) Duncan and Nathan deliberately pick the fruit for their Chardonnay early, to preserve its natural acidity. And it does. This is a very “Old World” style of Chardonnay, with vibrant citrus and apple fruits and plenty of minerality.
2007 Arnot-Roberts “Hudson Vineyard-North Block” Carneros Syrah ($59.99) Still quite youthful, this is serious Syrah with plenty of teeth-staining, bright briar and cherry fruit, savory grilled meat, cardamom spice and minerals balanced by acidity and dusty, fine tannins.