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Wednesday Warblings
Coombsville-—The Road Less Frequently Travelled

By Stephen Eliot

The need for “new” drives the wheels of journalism, and it is particularly true for those of us in the wine writing game. New vintages and bottlings, new wineries, new sensibilities and techniques in the crafting of wine, and, upon happy occasion, a new place or two…these are the grist for the wine writer’s mill.

“New” can and often does become an obsession. If nothing noteworthy is new, then it must be invented. Fashion and fad seem to demand it. Sometimes, however, when you look past the gloss and the glitter of the latest new thing, you find that it is not quite so new after all.

A couple of days back, we spent the afternoon at Grgich Hills Winery celebrating the ninetieth birthday of legendary winemaker Mike Grgich. On the way back home, we decided to take a detour from our usual route and visit a few folks in Coombsville, a less-visited valley of vines tucked away in Napa Valley’s southeastern corner to the east and just over the low hills from Napa City.

Coombsville is the newest legally recognized sub-AVA of the Napa Valley having been granted AVA status just over a year ago, and, as attentive followers of the California wine scene are aware, it is lately getting it’s a bit of the buzz when the topic turns to what’s new.

Serious winemaking in Coombsville does not come with a history as long as that of its northerly neighbors such as Yountville and Rutherford, but it has been quietly cultivating vineyards and making seriously good wines for more than thirty years under the watchful eyes of people like Bill Cadman, John Caldwell and Tom Farrella. More recently, notable wineries such as Arrow and Branch, Meteor, Ackerman, Ancien and Sodaro have made Coombsville home, and a good many top-flight, up-valley producers including Robert Mondavi, Merryvale, Pahlmeyer, Far Niente and Lail, to name but a few, have looked to Coombsville for premium fruit. The point is that the place in not so “new” when you look a bit deeper, but there is unquestionably an air of discovery surrounding it just now, and, with its new AVA status and a newly formed association of vintners and growers, we can expect to see and hear more about the goings on in Coombsville.

The story here is one of a comparatively cool climate, described in terms of heat summation and fitting somewhere between Carneros and Napa Valley’s southerly Oak Knoll District, and unique geology owing to volcanic deposits from nearby Mt. George. The appellation is a distinct and separate bowl-shaped entity due east of the town of Napa whose eastern hills and open west end make it subject to San Pablo Bay breezes and cooling fog. We cannot honestly say that we have yet seen a distinct and universal aspect of terroir in each of its wines, but the area’s temperate climes do predict wines of structure as opposed to those of runaway ripeness. A point, in fact, very much demonstrated by the remarkable, exceptionally well-balanced 1995 Farella Cabernet Sauvignon that highlighted our conversation with its maker and kept it going far longer than we had planned.

There is a good deal to yet learn about the place, and we have many questions to ask. How are the hillside vineyards different from those on the flats? Where do soils change and to what effect? What role does aspect and exposure ultimately play in the district’s wines? Is there, in fact, some singular personality twist that ties all of its wines together?

For us, the conversation has just started. Coombsville may be off the beaten path, but it is a road that is about to be far more frequently travelled.


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Hidden Gem of Napa valley
by Bill
Posted on:4/11/2013 9:17:04 AM

The Hidden Gem of Napa Valley is Gordon & Wooden Valley. Caymus, Altamura, & Eagle Eye own in these valleys with many of the large producers buying grapes for 50 years.

by Kat McDonald
Posted on:4/11/2013 12:02:37 PM

Lovely area, mostly residential so easy to overlook by the typical Napa visitor. Many places don't have general public tasting rooms so hard to discover. Now that wineries can identitfy the area on their labels hopefully more people will look out for the it. Just a thought...the climate is so different then Rutherford,Oakville etc maybe the area would be better served by growing varietals that Napa is not known for ? Just a thought...

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