Written by Allen R. Balik
Two weeks ago, the Coombsville Vintners and Growers (CVG) hosted their first media tasting in the sprawling new caves of the magnificent Covert Estate. This tasting marked a big step forward for the Coombsville AVA, and will sharpen the focus on the newest, and for many, the most individualistic of Napa Valley’s 16 AVAs.
In 2010, I became involved with Coombsville when I began to work on the development and launch of Shadybrook Estate, then the newest of the fine properties that call Coombsville home. Despite visiting Napa Valley dozens of times since 1979 and residing in Napa since 2001, I was unfamiliar with the area or the bountiful vinous treasures it produced.
The CVG now has 52 members, and virtually all are growers representing the history of Coombsville. More are now also vintners representing the future, selling their wines to a growing community of ardent followers. Since the district was officially recognized with an AVA status in December 2011, more than 300 labels have proudly displayed the Coombsville name, and that number will surely continue to grow exponentially.
For many years, Coombsville was a growers’ paradise and “bread basket” of optimum fruit for many of the most prestigious Upvalley producers. While this demand remains steady, more growers are now producing wine and creating brands from all or part of their crop.
Early Coombsville pioneers and stalwarts such as Tom Farella (Farella), John Caldwell (Caldwell Vineyard) and Bill Cadman (Tulocay Wines) have welcomed several highly regarded winemakers who were attuned to the treasures of Coombsville and have more recently established roots in the area, including Paul Hobbs (Nathan Coombs Estate), Agustin Huneeus (Faust), Bill and Dawnine Dyer (Meteor Vineyard) and many others.
Coombsville is a true expression of terroir, a French term with no direct English translation but connoting each vine’s total growing environment. Coombsville soils are a mix of volcanic ash and rock consistently present throughout its 11,000 acres (1,400 under vine). It has a cooler climate moderated by fog and vigorous breezes off the San Pablo Bay. Often the first to experience bud break and among the last to harvest, Coombsville is representative of a very long, cool and steady growing season yielding wines of superb balance and grace.
In addition to its harmonious soil type and climatic conditions, Coombsville is geographically unique given its west-facing horseshoe silhouette of mountains, rolling hills and plateaus offering exposures from northeast to southwest. The caldera was formed many millions of years ago by the collapse (not explosion) of an ancient volcano pushing the exceptional soils outward in distinct colluvial fans.
Our tasting began on the crush pad of Covert Estate amid breathtaking views of the caldera and surrounding mountains with a splendid glass of Tournesol Sauvignon Blanc and an introduction to the area by Coombsville veterans Ken Bernards (Ancien), Tracey Reichow (Black Cat Vineyard) and Julien Fayard (Covert Estate and Azur Wines).
We next entered the cave for a seated tasting of 11 wines each from a different Coombsville producer. Ken, Tracey and Julien along with CVG President Jimmy Kawalek led a discussion that delved further into the AVA, its wines and people. Nine of the 11 wines were cabernets (with one Bordeaux-style blend) as this is the dominant varietal planted in Coombsville. Also included were outstanding examples of pinot noir and syrah to demonstrate the AVA’s diversity.
Since my introduction to this appellation, I have tasted several hundred Coombsville wines representing many producers, vintages, vineyards and varietals. While each wine is a stylistic reflection of the individual vineyard and winemaker, I’ve noted a certain “commonality;” that is, an expression of the terroir and unique character of the AVA.
This commonality clearly presented itself to me and the other tasters throughout the menu of wines introduced. There is a consistent sense of elegance, balance and minerality that underlies the individual character and personality of each wine.
The bracing, but fully integrated, symmetry of bright acidity and firm tannins combine to create a core structure surrounded by a graceful fruit presence that bodes for early enjoyment with the potential for further development over time.
We freshened our palates after the tasting with an excellent Caldwell Chardonnay before enjoying a delicious lunch served with an abundant array of additional Coombsville wines. A highlight was the 1991 Farella cabernet sauvignon (in magnum) that fully demonstrated what a bit of time in the bottle can do to enhance the treasured wines of Coombsville.
Located just east of the town of Napa, the raw beauty of Coombsville is matched only by its idyllic growing conditions and individual style of the wines produced.