If your travels rarely take you to northern California, you may not be familiar with Yolo County’s vineyards. Lindsay Howard, wine director at the Boston location of Island Creek Oyster Bar, is delighted to fill in the blanks, starting with one delicious pour.
That bottle is a 2016 Keep Wines “Blanc Blend,” crafted from grapes hailing from Windmill Vineyard, in the Dunnigan Hills appellation. The organically farmed property is tucked between the Vaca mountain range and the Sacramento River Delta, about an hour’s drive northeast of Napa. “It’s a little off the beaten path,” says Howard, who enjoys talking up pours from lesser-known pockets of the wine world. “That’s the voice I want to give to the wine list, to put the unusual next to the familiar.”
The wine pro likes to feature bottles that break the “one grape only” mold. “The more I taste wine and get to meet distributors and producers, the more I’m into blends,” she continues. In our single-varietal-obsessed wine culture, she explains, blends show off what uniquely situated vineyards can yield. They also reflect the choices of winemakers, like Jack Roberts and Johanna Jensen Roberts, the husband-and-wife team behind this Golden State white.
British-born Roberts is assistant winemaker at the winery of Steve Matthiasson, renowned for his farming-first, restrained-in-alcohol pours. Matthiasson oversees cultivation of the Windmill Vineyard, which benefits from a hot inland climate that hastens ripening. Grapes are picked at lower sugar levels, making moderate-in-alcohol wines possible.
Jensen Roberts, who formerly worked with Abe Schoener at the Scholium Project and Chris Brockway at Broc Cellars, explains that the mix of grapes varies year to year. The 2016 blend showcases varietals usually associated with France: picpoul blanc, popular in the Languedoc, and grenache blanc, of southern Rhone fame. “We felt the wine needed a little complexity, so we did a small late harvest pick of grenache blanc,” says Jensen Roberts. Vinified in neutral oak and blended in just before bottling, the addition results in a rounder mid-palate without sacrificing bright acidity. The alcohol-by-volume level is on the lower side — just 11 percent.
Guests at the sleek Kenmore Square oyster bar often ask about the castle image on the bottle’s label. Roberts’ father grew up in Gloucestershire, England, the site of that medieval fortification, so the illustration pays tribute to him. (“Keep” is the stronghold of a castle, derived from the Middle English word for barrel.) The superimposed name of the brand is written in a puffy, stylized font, reminiscent of a graffiti tag. The somm loves sharing the story tableside, along with why she finds the blend so appealing.
“It’s fresh, clean, and a little salty,” she enthuses. “It really made sense for the list, plus it’s a nice conversation piece.”
Keep Wines “Blanc Blend” 2016 is pouring at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston, 617-532-5300, for $52 a bottle. Available retail at The Cheese Shop of Salem, 978-498-4820.