Nestled in the heart of the Bay Area, French winemaker Jerome Aubin has been using modern techniques to restore the traditional French wine taste since 2001. Aubin Cellars made its debut in Sonoma, where Jerome spearheaded the Pinot market by collaborating with other local winemakers to master the process. Soon after, discovery of the grapes’ varietal found in California led to grape fermentation found in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey, and the valley overlooking the Russian River in Oregon, where new cellars would expand. Each project- small or large- is treated as a unique, individual entity, where it is formulated through its distinct barrel program.
A versatile winemaker, Jerome claims his secret to success is being located in Oakland, where the influx of culture and international visitors allows him to showcase the passion for wine that he developed as an adolescent in Burgundy, France. The winemaking philosophy at Aubin Cellars is to respect the fruit’s makeup by allowing the most vibrant characteristics to shine through.
For this Q & A we spoke with its winemaker Jerome Aubin:
Tell us how you got started in making wine?
I started my career first by cultivating relationships with winemakers and making 3-4 barrels of pinot noir or chardonnay with them. My experience has been an evolving process- but I’ve learned that you have to trust the winemakers and they will do it.
How has flavor changed?
I started in California, where I used California grapes, but in the beginning I tried to have a New Orleans style. I’ve begun picking grapes that are riper, and then keeping the fruit and vineyard consistent with the fragrance of the fruit so that the grape’s stronger flavors pull through. I prefer to have an “old world flare” as opposed to “new world.” To do this, I try to have wines that aren’t as oak impacted or white so that we can highlight the vineyard and the fruit. I still use barrels and fermenters, but I try not to use older vines.
Who is the winemaker at Aubin?
I am the owner and proprietor. We don’t have a sole winemaker, but I am part of the winemaking process. I rely on winemakers to guide through the grape sourcing, so you can consider it a collaborative effort, as this is the traditional winemaking process in France. I help organize, put everything together, print labels, and blend our creations. I’m the guy who puts the pieces of the puzzle together.
I try to treat each project, small or large, as something very unique and very distinctive with its own barrel program. Winemakers run the project and will specialize in their own choice of wine. We’ve narrowed down specialties in each location, with one pinot in California, one sparkling wine in Oregon, with 6 wines altogether.
Is there something in particular about the Bay area and to why you chose it?
My wife was a grad student at UC Berkeley and currently teaches at Stanford, so East Bay has been Central for us. Oakland area is a secret tool in the Bay due its European, diverse feel. This is the experimenting ground for urban wineries and is better for new businesses as we become the hub of international development.
From where do you source your fruit?
Our fruit extends as far as the Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey, Oregon, and Sonoma.
What makes Aubin Wines different and/or special?
The fact that we source from wines all over California and Oregon. It’s special because we always have at least 2-3 wine makers working on one type of wine.
The pinot is fermented in oak fermenters- not in plastic or tanks. The oak fermenters improves the fermentation process for pinot due to the better temperature curve- there is more inertia by making it richer and complex over time . We also age wines and let them mature in barrels for at least 14-18 months. (most are 12) which helps gain complexity and texture and an earthiness, forest-ground quality.
Do you have a preference for any specific varietals? If so, why?
I have a slight for pinot because I grew up close to burgundy in France, so it’s always been close to my heart. I also like the blends of pinot and chardonnay grapes. I have versatile taste.
Do you have a visit-able winery?
We have a tasting room in the Oakland hills by appointment only – it’s unusual, but we will accommodate visitors.
What is your philosophy on enclosure: screw cap versus cork?
I still use natural cork, especially as its improved in quality over the past 10 years. I’m not opposed to screw caps or synthetic closers for white wines, but for the most part, I keep it old-school.
What should we know about Aubin Cellars that you haven’t been asked?
My French background has really influenced the winemaking for the Cellar’s philosophy and vision. It’s been the trigger for my interest. Also, I love California.