The SOMM Journal
planet grape by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis
DISCOVERING THE LONG ESTABLISHED, NEWLY RECOGNIZED COOMBSVILLE AVA
Just five minutes east of bustling downtown Napa with its popular riverfront and Oxbow Market is the bucolic, off-the-beaten-path Coombsville, a cool southern valley area protected by an ancient caldera which was granted AVA status in December 2011.
Sleepy Coombsville is everything Napa used to be – rolling hills, open green spaces, horses grazing, deer crossing single lane roads, and drivers who are not in any particular rush. No ubers. No busses. No balloons. And no Starbucks. Which is fine by locals. And lucky for them, they are likely to see few changes, as it is a water deficit area.
Coombsville is on a mission to make a name for their local wines, modeling them after the big, rich, tannic Napa Cabernets that have become world-famous and highly sought after. Proximity to San Pablo Bay and varied elevations however tends to slow ripening of this heat-loving grape. Black Cat Vineyard owner Tracey Reichow refers to this as a “long landing pad.”
There are some 25-30 production facilities, 52 member wineries-most outside the appellation-and 387 labels that use Coombsville AVA fruit, albeit often without mention, keeping the Napa Valley name prominent. Any winery visits are by appointment only, including to the brand new Covert Winery, which hosted the recent Coombsville Vintners & Growers Association trade tasting. The seated tasting showcased ten of the local wines, including the plush 2014 Ancien Mink Vineyard Pinot Noir, with notes of cherry cola, tangerine and vanilla, the lively 2013 Black Cat Vineyard Syrah, with intense berry fruit, hay, chamomile and fresh acidity, and several 2012 Cabernets, all but one of which clocked in between 14.7-15.2 % abv. including that of our host, the 2012 Covert Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville(14.9%). In very good company, including John Winthrop Haeger, Michele Ana Jordan, Virginie Boone and Luke Sykora, I was lucky to be sitting next to the usually outspoken Dan Berger. But when he didn’t speak up, I did. I asked about the level of alcohol that in combination with lavish oak tannins made the wines very bold and muscular, and in need of much aeration or aging. The answers were swift and to the point. One winemaker said, “At 15.5 you can have structure and balance and mediate the greenness, and there is a 1 point variation allowed from what the label says.” Greenness? Ah, I see. In competing with the ripest Cabernets in the world, there is a need to out-ripen any sense of green. But it makes me wonder what this cool, southern Napa region could do if it looked more to a region such as Margaux, rather than trying to compete with Stags Leap or even the hourglass further north.
One of my favorite Cabernet’s of the tasting was the 2012 Marita’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Coombsville, fine and elegant with cherry, blueberry, gentle tannins and natural acidity. A blockbuster? No. But would I drink it with dinner? Absolutely. And with Coombsville featured prominently on the front label, the area may finally earn its well-deserved recognition.//