By Laura Ness
Winegrower Brock Waterman paid attention in class at Cal Poly. One of the lessons that really resonated with him came during an irrigation class where the professor stated, “I know most of you have no interest in water. You take it for granted. But mark my words, water will become a huge issue in California. It’s critical that you pay attention.”
Waterman, a 4H kid from the Central Valley town of Clovis, grew up surrounded by fig orchards. He hates figs of any kind to this day. But, planting Pinot Noir in 1993 at Cal Poly, helped shape his focus in viticulture and he ended up getting a degree in Agriculture as well as Finance. He rode the latter to a significant financial nest egg, and along the way began experimenting with brewing beer, which imprinted in him the mantra of “Cleanliness is next to Godliness!”
Meeting a city gal from So Cal, Michelle, now his wife, whose girlfriends liked to frequent Napa, he ended up, as he says, “geeking out,” talking to winemakers at Napa Valley wineries while the gals tasted. Pretty soon he figured out that this is what he wanted to be doing for a living: staying in the wholesale mortgage business forever was simply not an option.
The couple began looking for vineyard sites in Napa, Mendocino, Sonoma, Temecula and finally Paso. In 1997, they found a 20-acre hilly parcel on the west side off Lake Nacimiento Road with compacted clay soils. It became their Zinspiration. Still in their late 20’s, the couple became the 29th bonded winery in the region.
Brock is very passionate about Zin: “It’s really America’s grape. It’s California’s grape. No other state can grow it. I really wanted to pay homage to where we live and the fact that Zinfandel is so much loved. And it lends itself to different sites. Our style has been compared with Turley’s, and I think Paso Zins in general are big, fleshy and fruit-driven. People who tend to drink Zins are real wine drinkers, not collectors. Real people!”
Recognizing there is life beyond Zin, however, Brock planted Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet fairly early on, figuring they might be aces here. And Rhones do really well, so he planted Grenache and Mourvedre. For a number of years, he purchased Napa Cab, until the 2010 vintage, which proved difficult across the board for Cab, especially in Napa.
“It simply made no economic sense to continue the program,” says Waterman. “Rhones Rule in Paso, whereas it’s hard to make Cabernet extraordinary here.”
He’s quite excited about his “anniversary blends,” which began with the winery’s 10th in 2008. He took the best 10 barrels of the lot and blended them into a single barrel, which he let age for six months before bottling in some really attractive packaging. Thus was born the “Ten” anniversary blend, a concept that proved so popular, he’s been doing it ever since. For 2013, he’s working on “15.” “I guess this proves we have tenure in this business!” he says.
In 2012, both sons, Bryson and Braden, expressed interest in making their own wines. Thus was born the concept of “Sibling Rivalry.” Brock says Bryson came to him during harvest and said he wanted to make a Syrah; at the same time, Braden decided he wanted to make a blend of Petite Sirah and Zin. Each boy made a barrel.
When the wines go on sale, one percent of the proceeds will go to their college funds, and the rest will be donated to a charity chosen personally by each boy. Says Brock, “I wanted to make sure that they choose a cause that is personally meaningful to them.”
Waterman also has a mobile bottling line business. “I simply had to have control of the entire wine production process, and for me, that included bottling.” So he purchased his own line and now makes it available to other wineries that really care about getting that critical part of the process done properly.
Brochelle wines are available for tasting Thursday through Mondays, 11 – 5 p.m., at their tasting room on the east side of Paso, on Tule Court, where they share a warehouse building with two other wineries, Barrel 27 and Hug Cellars. (805-237-0519, www.brochelle.com)
“We began looking for a tasting room manager before we even settled on a space,” says Waterman.
They found a real gem in Shelbi Wilson, a cheery Paso native who worked at The Pony Club and at Jada Winery prior, and whose mother, Pam, works for Caliza. The tasting room is impressively decorated with nearly floor to ceiling electric candlelight, and has both a water feature and a fireplace, over which a slideshow of some of Michelle’s awesome photographs of the vineyard move dreamily across an LCD screen. There’s a comfy couch and coffee table, and bar stools on which to contemplate the wines in your glass and the evolving wines in the barrel room, which is visible through an enormous pane of glass behind the bar.
Shelbi cheerily pours from the Brochelle tasting menu, which features reds. An $8 cheese and wine pairing gets you tastes of four wines. Begin with their Santa Maria Valley Syrah, with alluring notes of exotic spices, French vanilla and an elegant expression of dark cherry and blueberry flavors, amped up by smoky meat and hints of tea. Then it’s on to the Estate Zinfandel, with attention-getting aromas of cherry brandy, orange blossom and pretty blueberry, that produce a riot of cherry on the palate, along with baking spice and plum. Well balanced with good acid.
Moving to the Estate Syrah, this opens with the aromas of a kitchen in full holiday baking mode, with fig bars, brownies, roasted onions and plum pudding. You’ll be naming flavors for hours as you work through the powerhouse of possibilities.
Michelle’s favorite is the Nektar, the Late Harvest Zin that will melt your heart with warm flavors of cherry tobacco, orange blossom honey and blackberry jam. This is one dessert wine that is nicely balanced – it actually has the poise to please your palate and then graciously leave the room.
Featured image above: The Brochelle Tasting Room’s unique wine glass chandeliers. Photo by Laura Ness