Roche – it’s not French, it’s Irish – so don’t pronounce it like “Rochambeau,” but like “roach,” as in Kafka. The Roche family is one of dozens of wine dynasties of Irish descent thriving essentially everywhere except, well, Ireland. Mara Roche, elder sibling of the latest generation of Roches explains the phenomenon like so:
When James II was defeated trying to regain the Irish thrown in the late 1600s (the practicing Roman Catholic had been replaced by a pair of Protestant in-laws), the Irish soldiers who had been loyal to him followed him to France where he spent the rest of his days. This initial flight and subsequent return trips back and forth led earned them the nickname “wild geese.” After setting in the Bordeaux region and acclimating to prevailing agricultural trends, they were upgraded to “wine geese.” A later diaspora led some wine geese to the states and it’s from this line that the Roche family hails.
At least, that’s how I think it goes. A tasting room patron who, having announced that she was speech pathologist, rudely asked Mara “Do you always talk like that?” interrupted my note taking. Mara’s vocal prowess could have the decibel power of a Valkyrie if she so chose, but on this occasion it had a bit of fine-grit sandpaper in it, due to – as she assured – allergens not pathogens. The speech pathologist recommended not eating dairy. Then she explained that she had been eating oysters and as a result her fingers were “a bit fragrant.”
Mara kindly produced a small bottle of anti-bacterial hand soap from her purse (“It gets rid of all the nasties,” she advised the woman) and suggested that she also rub her hands in the aromatic rosemary bush outside. This proved a clever and diplomatic means of removing her from the tasting room.
Unfettered by fish-fingered busy-bodies, Mara poured an alluring 2005 sauvignon blanc which is, in a word, “Bubblicious.” The fruity wine, done up in hues of summer pear, has a distinctly Bazooka Joe note that recalls one’s first junior high kiss and awakens the palate as wonderful late-summer refreshment. ($14.95). Another favorite is the award-winning 2003 estate chardonnay (the San Francisco Chronicle gave it the gold), a lean, crisp wine that swaggers from yellow apple to a creamy finish, with vanilla patting its ass the whole way ($24.95). The 2003 Carneros pinot noir is an earthy mouthful of prime Sonoma real estate topped with a sinewy smokiness courtesy of brettanomyces, a residual yeast better known as “brett,” (as in The Sun Also Rises). Brett is either be a blessing or bane to winemakers, but here it adds a welcomed layer of complexity and a pinch of cinnamon, which is a fine reason to get goosed ($25.95).
Roche Carneros Estate Winery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Tastings are free to individuals. (707) 935 – 7115. www.rochewinery.com.