Lunch with Shirley Roy of Roy Estate Wines

A few weeks ago I was privileged to be invited to lunch with Shirley Roy, owner of Roy Estate Wines. We met at L’Espalier in Boston’s Back Bay, and spent the next two hours discussing her wines, winery and the dream she and her late husband Charles shared of building. Shirley is a lovely woman, passionate about her wine, traveling around the country to tell the Roy Estate story. Her husband and partner Charles tragically passed away earlier this year, as a result of complications from surgery.

Charles Roy was originally from Massachusetts, a civil engineer and an architect. Shirley was born on Long Island, grew up in New Jersey, and was an accountant as well as a student of fine food and wine. Together, they owned and operated executive suite businesses in New Jersey and Norfolk, Virginia. During the 1980’s and 90’s they made many business trips to San Francisco and Northern California. They fell in love with Napa Valley and in 1999 purchased pro golfer Johnny Miller’s estate in Napa Valley property, which is nestled in Soda Canyon just south of the Stags Leap district.

The Roys planted five acres on flat land while awaiting a decision about how much and where they could plant the rest of their vines. In November of 2000, they were informed that Helen Turley was looking for a winemaking project of that size, and they began working on their dream. They ripped up the original five acres of vines, re-planting twice as many vines knowing they would only come away with half of the fruit. The seventeen acre vineyard, planted in 2001 and 2002 by Pina Vineyard Management under the direction of Helen Turley, is divided into seventeen blocks: twelve blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, four blocks of Merlot and one block of Petit Verdot.  The three varietals are planted with four rootstocks and nine clones and the spacing is six feet by three feet, which equals 2,430 vines per acre.  The vineyard has elaborate irrigation systems, allowing them to farm vine by vine.

The 17 acre vineyard produces wines that are all estate grown – according to Shirley, it’s not about making 2,000 cases a year, it’s about making the best wine possible. In 2001, they planted Cabernet and Petit Verdot which produces their first vintage in 2004. Helen Turley left the project in 2005, which resulted in winemaker Philippe Melka coming onboard. He is one of the world’s most respected winemakers, who is best known for ‘finding the voice of the vineyard through its terroir,’ as he puts it.  Philippe was born and raised in the Bordeaux region and graduated from the University of Bordeaux with a degree in geology in 1989 and then earned a second degree in enology in 1991, specializing in agronomy and vineyard soils.  He began his career working at wineries in France (Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau Petrus), Italy (Badia a Coltibuono), Australia (Chittering Estate) and California (Dominus and Ridge) before settling in the Napa Valley in 1994. Named ‘Winemaker of the Year’ by Food & Wine Magazine in 2005 and The San Francisco Chronicle in 2003, Melka explains, “my style is to show the site through the wine, to respect the grape as much as I can.  So every single wine I make will be very different, because every one has a unique site.  We should emphasize the estate much more than the winemaker.  You have to minimize the technique as much as you can.”

It was his idea to concentrate on only two wines: a Proprietary Red blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon. At lunch, we tasted the ’06 blend, which is 82% Cabernet, 15% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. It is 100% barrel fermented in new French Oak and received a 94 from Robert Parker for the ’04 vintage, and a 95 for the ’05. It retails for $110/bottle, and 1100 cases were produced. It had a soft mouth feel that combined a velvety texture with incredible integrated tannins. It was fresh, light on its feet for a big wine, and a beautiful soft finish.

The second wine we tasted was the ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was 93% Cabernet and 7 %Petit Verdot, also 100 percent barrel fermented in new French Oak. It released aromas of dried herbs, espresso beans and chocolate, and hints of black cherry, blackberry, and mocha on the palate – there was great depth and complexity to the wine. This wine spent an additional 6 months in the barrel for a total of 24 months aging. It retails for $150/bottle, and only 440 cases were produced.
The annual FOOD & WINE book, “wine guide 2010” highlights ROY Estate’s 2006 Proprietary Red blend. It was among just four other (Bond, Harlan, Insignia & Pahlmeyer) Napa Bordeaux style wines to receive the highest rating of 4 stars.

“Philippe Melka, a terroir-obsessed Bordeaux native, has composed a wine that expresses both Old World elegance and New World concentration.  Aromas of red and black currants, cocoa and pepper give way to a palate of dark fruit, earth and oak. 

The Roy Estate wines are currently available in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Chicago, California, Nevada and Hawaii, in both on and off premise accounts.

Tours and tastings are by appointment only – please visit www.royestate.com for more information.

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