Rococo "Own Rooted" Chenin Blanc 2020
Santa Barbara County
Winemaker Natalie Brown founded Rococo as an homage and singly-focused project devoted to the lovely and noble Chenin Blanc varietal. Her "Own Rooted" Chenin comes from a tiny 3 acre vineyard in Los Alamos, a coastal area sandwiched between the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Barbara. The Chenin in this off-the-radar vineyard was planted in 1974, at the height of the grape's popularity.
It calls back to its California heyday with vibrant tropical fruit, chamomile, and melon rind aromas. The palate is satisfyingly rich, with a full fruited mouthfeel, viscous texture and kiss of richness on the end, reminiscent of Loire Valley Chenin like Montlouis or Vouvray. Fermented naturally in barrel over the fall months, it shows off texture, richness, and wonderfully developed fruit, with elderflower, pineapple, and brioche to the finish.
Their wines consistently impress critics – the 2020 has dual 93-94 points.
As the name implies, it grows on its own ungrafted (or "own rooted") vines. To understand how special the vineyard source is you need to know about phylloxera and grapevines. Phylloxera is a destructive aphid native to North America that feasts on the roots of the vine. When European grapevines were brought from the old world, they encountered phylloxera here and, as the aphid hitched a ride back to Europe and beyond, it nearly destroyed vines worldwide. The solution was to graft vines onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstock. "Ungrafted" or "own-rooted" vines are incredibly rare now, as any encounter with the aphid would decimate them.
Before we collectively knew any better, in the '70s California white wines would often be labelled "California Chablis" or "Rhine Wine" – the source for which was a mélange of grapes from across the state, including this vineyard which supplied Carlo Rossi's infamous "Chablis," which did not contain any Chardonnay and was most certainly not from Chablis or the Rhine!
A historic vineyard site, arguably kept alive by winemaker Natalie Brown and Rococo, this is a crowd-pleasing, full-bodied, utterly classic Chenin Blanc that calls back to a bygone era. Put this up against smoked trout rillettes, smoked pork shoulder, BBQ baby back ribs, or a triple-cream brie with spicy Dijon for a rollicking good time.