Napa Sonoma Spring - Summer, 2012 : Page 27

Coombsville beComes Napa valley’s New plaCe to taste. by sarah suNg Cool CouNtry Napa Sonoma 27

Cool Country

Sarah Sung

Coombsville, Napa’s newest wine region, is barely on the radar, yet its excellent Bordeaux-style wines, laid-back tasting experience, and rolling-hills beauty are fewer than 10 minutes from downtown Napa—so close, you could run into town for a quick bite in between tasting room visits.<br /> <br /> The area has been known as Coombsville since 1876, with grape vines planted there possibly before 1870. Almost since then, the momentum has been building, and according to owner-winemaker Ken Bernards of Ancien, “It’s been an insider’s industry secret since the 1980s,” with many prestigious wineries up valley and elsewhere using grapes grown in Coombsville. So it follows that Coombsville would finally become Napa’s 16th American Viticultural Area (AVA).<br /> <br /> On December 14, 2011, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau declared this 11,000–acre horseshoeshaped region east of Napa the valley’s newest, official subappellation. Tom Farella, of Farella Vineyard, cowrote the proposal for the AVA, marking just the right moment for Coombsville to have its coming out.<br /> <br /> “All of this stuff just came together at once,” he says, referring to the area’s effort to market itself as well as the granting of the AVA status. And now, wine drinkers can discover what winemakers have known for decades.<br /> <br /> It’s a quick turn from the southern point of the Silverado Trail onto Coombsville Road, where it looks much less like the typical Highway 29 scene and far more like farm country. As Rebecca Griffin from Porter Family Vineyards sagely puts it, it’s like a “step back in time for Napa.” Bound by the Napa River to the west and Mount George (a dormant volcano) to the north, with lots of tempering influence from San Pablo Bay, it’s a grape-growing area that’s optimally suited for slow-ripening Bordeaux varieties like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and merlot. And there’s also a smattering of cabernet franc, syrah, and pinot noir.<br /> <br /> There are about 25 family-run wineries—which conduct tours and tastings by appointment only. As Griffin says, “No one is sitting in a tasting room waiting for people to stop by.” According to Bernards, up to now, recommendations happened through word of mouth (though Ancien’s wines have been in the lineup of state dinners at the White House 15 times). As Tim and Debbie Darrin from Daviana, who sell their cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes to Duckhorn and Andy Erickson (consulting winemaker for Ovid and formerly Screaming Eagle), humbly says, “We’re all part-timers.”<br /> <br /> Because of its scale, Coombsville offers intimate experiences with the winemakers and winegrowers. The range of tasting visits runs the gamut, reflecting the personality of the owners. Some wineries, like Meteor, offer a more traditional tasting experience at a table in a designated room, and Palmaz and Ancien conduct theirs in caves—though it’s all still personalized, usually with a family member and/or winemaker. On the other end of the spectrum, tastings have occurred at dining room tables, on bocce courts, and even poolside, as a chicken is roasted for dinner or a pizza bakes in the wood oven.<br /> <br /> Tracey Reichow, winemaker and proprietor of Black Cat Vineyard, calls Coombsville a “truly unique grape-growing area,” noting that the growing season is as much as a month longer than elsewhere. “It’s not really cooler here. It’s less hot,” she says, meaning it’s more temperate and doesn’t have the heat spikes they have up valley. Jason Alexander, Meteor’s general manager, adds that the area is the first to experience bud break and last to complete harvest, which results in a “vibrant, natural acidity and a more elegant expression of the grape.” Ancien’s Bernards attributes the region’s success to the cooling effects of the marine influence and the long ripening season. Tournesol owner Bob Arns aptly comments, “We can have a longer hang time to develop those flavors, without baking the character out of the wine.” <br /> <br /> Approximately 50 miles from San Francisco, it’s a straight shot to Coombsville. And since the wineries are conveniently situated close together, there’s less travel time in between tastings. Yet the more intimate visiting experiences last longer. The best approach is to schedule no more than four wineries per day (projecting for a comfortable hour and a half visit for each).<br /> <br /> For overnight stays, Napa hotels are close by. For extended visits of a month or longer, wineries like Tournesol can accommodate guests. Tournesol has four guest homes, ranging from a one-bedroom studio to a four-bedroom estate home, spread throughout its vineyards and overlooking lakes and streams.<br /> <br /> With a blossoming downtown Napa a stone’s throw away and these elegant under-the-radar wines on the verge of discovery, a visit to Coombsville offers the opportunity to experience the promise that earlier generations enjoyed decades ago in what are now more established regions.<br /> <br /> The wineries<br /> <br /> Ancien wines<br /> <br /> Tasting happens in caves or<br /> under an oak tree. 4047 E.<br /> Third Ave., (707) 255-3908,<br /><br /> <br /> Black Cat Vineyard<br /> <br /> Maker of Syrah and Bordeaux<br /> varietals. 1352 Fourth<br /> Ave., (707) 321-0866,<br /><br /> <br /> Daviana winery<br /> <br /> A self-contained paradise<br /> with garden boxes tended by<br /> the green thumbs of Ubuntu.<br /> 2456 N. Third Ave., (707) 251-<br /> 0173,<br /> <br /> Farella Vineyard<br /> <br /> Produces wine, and grapes<br /> for notable cult wineries up<br /> valley. 2222 N. Third Ave.,<br /> (707) 254-9489,<br /> <br /> Meteor Vineyard<br /> <br /> A long driveway leads into<br /> 32 acres and a vast view<br /> perfect for stargazing. 2181<br /> N. Third Ave., (707) 258-2900,<br /><br /> <br /> Palmaz Vineyards<br /> <br /> Winemaking occurs inside<br /> an 18-story wine cave. 4029<br /> Hagen Rd., (707) 226-5587,<br /><br /> <br /> Porter Family Vineyards<br /> <br /> This winery is both laid-back<br /> and high-tech. 1189 Green<br /> Valley Rd., (707) 927-0765,<br /><br /> <br /> Tournesol wine<br /> <br /> Bordered by Lake Louise<br /> and Murphy Creek, this<br /> property offers places to<br /> stay on the estate. 4297 E.<br /> Third Ave., (707) 224-3960,<br /><br /> <br /> For a more comprehensive<br /> list of Coombsville’s wineries,<br /> go to

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