ROEDERER ESTATE WINEMAKER ARNAUD WEYRICH
In the Barrel - From Intern to Top Dog
Roederer Estate Winemaker Arnaud Weyrich Leaps Into the Spotlight
When he first came to California in 1993, Arnaud Weyrich was just one of the scores of recent graduates turned out each year by wine schools around the world. But he wasted no time in going his own way. Instead of taking a job in his native France, Weyrich signed on as an intern at Roederer Estate in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley.
It must have seemed an odd choice to some, considering the valley’s rural, remote location and Roederer’s dedication to a wine most Americans drink only at weddings. And in fact, Weyrich was soon back in France. But he never forgot California. By 2000 he was working for Louis Roederer (Roederer Estate’s parent company in Champagne). When Michel Salgues, the founding winemaker at Roederer Estate, retired three years later, Weyrich was ready to leap the Atlantic again and succeed his former boss.
“Being number one is the hardest position,” he notes, “because the only direction you can go is down.” He smiles as he says it, but the point is clear. Under Salgues, Roederer Estate’s top-tier bottling, called “L’Hermitage,” was widely considered America’s finest sparkling wine. Weyrich, 35, must maintain his winery’s position at the peak — while also replanting nearly two-thirds of the estate’s vineyards and managing the recent surprise acquisition of Anderson Valley’s other full-time sparkling winery, Scharffenberger (formerly Pacific Echo).
It’s a tall order, but the slender, precise Weyrich appears unperturbed. He sees the 14-year replanting project, forced by phylloxera, as a fundamental opportunity to improve the raw ingredients for his winemaking team. “Anderson Valley is fairly new as a wine region, especially compared to France,” he points out. “We have much more data now about our site than when it was first planted and we are using that information in a very systematic way.”
As to the acquisition, announced shortly before the 2004 harvest, he is equally optimistic. “We were competitors in the marketplace, but we have always been friends and neighbors here in the valley,” he says of Scharffenberger. “We are an estate winery, and the acquisition brings us the new vineyards we need to expand our production without compromising our quality.”
Weyrich is also making his mark in the winery — not by changing wine styles but by adjusting the winemaking to achieve his company’s lofty goals. “In France, Champagne is a wine that is made through the teamwork of many people over many years,” he explains. “So I am not like the American winemakers who come into a new job and set the style they want. The style is already established here. My job is to perfect the details.”
One example is his use of malolactic fermentation with a small percentage of his grapes. This natural process, which softens a wine’s acidity, can be allowed or arrested depending on the character of the vintage and what the winemaker intends in the finished wine. “Michel did not use malolactic fermentation at all, which is the Roederer tradition,” Weyrich explains. “But in some years, we need to smooth out the edges of the wine. So I use just a little.”
He permits himself another smile. “Tradition is important at Roederer,” he says, “but the strongest tradition is to make the best wine.”