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Don Gillette
March 20, 2014 | Don Gillette

History and Specificity (part two of two)

 Napa Valley Winery Exchange opened its doors in 1988, with the idea of offering travelers a glimpse of the California wines not encountered out of state. One of the first wines we introduced was Jason Pahlmeyer’s Bordeaux inspired 1985 Napa Valley Red. Years later we launched Coho’s 2002 Headwaters Napa Red. Both were labeled Napa Valley, yet both were produced from Coombsville grapes, and in the vintages to follow each would receive consistent critical praise.

In California, a celebrated wine growing area may be recognized as special enough to have its name and distinctive geographical identity protected by law. This appellation system was developed in Europe and is now in place in one form or another around the world. Under this system, a wine labeled Russian River Valley may come from nowhere else.

The Napa Valley appellation is now famous worldwide and over the years its most important districts have received their own special recognition as sub-appellations. In the wine marketplace, the more specific the appellation, the more valuable the grapes. Last winter, an NVWE crew attended the inaugural trade and media tasting for the newly recognized Coombsville appellation.

Although Coombsville has been a source of outstanding wines for over a century, its growers and vintners were slow to seek appellation status. Recently, the locals petitioned the government for that recognition, romantically suggesting that the appellation be known by the areas 19th Century name: Tulocay. Appellation status was promptly, but at first only provisionally, approved: a condition was that the name Tulocay be replaced by Coombsville, a place that can actually be found on a map.

Coombsville is cooler than northern Napa and its vineyards fan-out over rolling hills, without the contrasts in elevation found in the Valley. Houses and horse barns dot this landscape, and Coombsville Road is dotted with 19th Century properties, lichen-covered trees and semi-crumbled native rock walls. Although the feel is decidedly rural, newly built houses and rock walls are to be seen everywhere.

Tasting in Coombsville is a pleasure. The place is rural-friendly. The tasting tables are free of high-profile pretense and everyone seems cheerful and optimistic. The food supplied for the tasting was both more elaborate and better than that served to us earlier in Yountville, the home of many of California’s most celebrated restaurants. The food-truck in which it was prepared was parked just outside the airy residential barn where we did our tasting. The barn, owned by the Chin family, overlooks their Syrah vineyard, a source for Caldwell Winery’s Rocket Science blend.

This has traditionally been Cab-Merlot-Syrah country and it was no surprise that we were knocked-out by three local reds. Two were Cabernets: The 2008 Sciandri Estate Cabernet was a true beauty, showing the concentration of its vintage and great clarity to its cherry, cranberry, vanilla and baking-spice flavors (Later, John added a bottle to a San Francisco Wine Tasting Panel Cab tasting, where it was the clear favorite!). The 2011 Edict Cabernet Sauvignon Collinetta Vineyard is obviously a 2011 vintage star and looked like a cult-wine in the making. It is a June release and we hope to launch it in our June High Rollers Cabernet Club box.

The Mink Vineyard, produced each year by Ancien Winery, is the only consistently brilliant Pinot Noir property we know of in Coombsville. We have a faithful following for this wine, which is typically almost masculine in personality. It almost always serves-up rich dark fruit and lots of spice, and has a great track record for improvement in bottle. We found the 2012 intense, yet stunningly feminine. It displays lovely perfume, gorgeous fruit clarity and lively zest. Its tannic grip lurks below an already silky texture. Our Pinot Noir Club members can expect a bottle in their April box.

We didn’t leave Coombsville until after dark. It had been a long day in the trenches, but a good one.


                                   View of Syrah vines from the terrace at the Chin's barn.


                       Don holds living proof that great Pinot can be grown in Coombsville.


                        Don, at end of day, recalling why he does not live in Minnesota. 




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