THE NVWE BLOG
Welcome to the NVWE Wine Blog! We hope it will be good and informative reading. Our blog will be as varied in style as our staff members are varied in personality and experience. Some staff-member entries may be brief notes about exciting new discoveries. Others may be descriptions of recent wine touring adventures. A few may be longer, with a bit of historical detail, like this one.
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.
Circumstances rarely permit the full NVWE staff to visit wine country together, but a few times each year several of us are able to travel as a group. Recently Kristen, Lisa, John & I spent a long day together in Napa Valley. The valley is blissfully traffic-free in winter and that day we were also blessed with blue skies, sweet clean air and 70 degrees. It was a working day, one involving three short and two long stops.
11:00am found us high above St. Helena, in the chilly tasting room of Spring Mountain’s Robert Keenan Winery. We came for a private tasting of upcoming releases including Keenan’s two flagship reds.
Keenan’s 2010 Mernet (Merlot, Cabernet & Cabernet Franc) was picture-perfect: deep, stylish & of outstanding clarity, it is packed with delicious fruit and is clearly age-worthy. Their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is great Cabernet. It is powerful, focused and deeply-etched with that mountains sweet cherry & mineral signature. I found it wonderful already, but God (who has more time and money than I) will likely be enjoying his bottles over the next 30 years.
Laura Kewell, our host, was justifiably ecstatic about the tasting rooms 2014 lineup, which will also include Keenan’s rarely seen Syrah. The 2010 is a gorgeous marriage of creamy, cherryish Coombsville fruit to darkly rich Syrah from Atlas Peak. Laura seemed just as excited however, by the promise of a tasting room remodeled to include heaters. The building she currently greets guests in was built in 1904, for the long defunct Conradi Winery.
Kristen was driving, and a bit past noon she took us down the mountain to St Helena proper, for a fast snack at Taylor’s Refresher. We ate at a picnic table under brilliant sunshine, in Taylor’s grass-covered back yard: fortifying ourselves with gourmet fish tacos, hot dogs and sweet potato fries.
After lunch, we moved south to Whitehall Lane Winery, to pick up wine for a last minute special order for one of Whitehall’s two flagship Cabs (and we did a bit of tasting, of course). We are proud to be the only store in the world authorized to sell these bottlings. The 2010 Leonardini Cab and the 2010 Millennium MM Cab are fabulous. Already lauded by the press, they are likely the greatest pair ever released by Whitehall, which opened its doorsin 1981. The Leonardini Vineyard saw its first vintage in 1993, while the Millennium property was developed post 2000.
We next found ourselves parked alongside Botega Restaurant, on our way into the annual Taste of Yountville.
Nearly all of Yountville’s premium wine is red, and Bordeaux grapes dominate. On entry we found that some of our favorite producers (like Keever and Darms Lane) were not in attendance. There were several high-profile high-price wines being poured, although on this day we did not feel that a single one of them deserved its elevated price.
We did make two exciting discoveries: Rocca’s 2010 Grigsby Vineyard Cabernet and Corley’s 2010 State Lane Cab. Blankiet’s Bordeaux-esque 2011 Rive Droite checked-in as a good dark horse, outstripping that winery’s vastly pricier Estate wine. We didn’t linger, as the path to our last stop meant a trip further south and east into the Napa suburb of Coombsville.
John evaluates Rocca's 2010 Grigsby Cabernet at Taste of Yountville
Kristen writes a tasting note on one of the few whites at Taste of Yountville
John and Don chat with the Napa Wine Train's Yuri Soshizaki