• Lorelei Helmke

Touring Coombsville

Wine lovers know Napa.

Wine lovers know Rutherford.

Wine lovers know Calistoga.

But, do you, my fellow wine lovers, know Coombsville?

A picturesque rural farming community, located in the southeastern corner of Napa Valley, Coombsville was awarded an American Viticultural Area designation in 2011, making it the youngest AVA in California. Coombsville wines are not new to the market. Many great wines from Napa Valley have been grown in Coombsville. I was introduced this new-found secret during a recent trip to Napa Valley.

What Sets Coombsville Apart?

The 11,000 acres of rural farming area sits in a bowl-shaped depression, cradled in the foothills of the Vacas Mountain Range. Mt. George and Atlas Peak stand tall on the sides of Coombsville. The ash from eruptions of Mt. George blanketed this area leaving behind a soil composition that is both rich in mineral and drains easily.

The climate is cooler than other areas in Napa Valley. Temperatures are mitigated by the proximity to San Pablo Bay, thus allowing for longer hang time, slower ripening and later harvests. The heat spikes are less severe. Wines from Coombsville trend more elegant than brooding.

For decades, some of the most famous wines from Napa Valley have been sourced from Coombsville. Wineries such as Pahlmeyer, Phelps Insignia, Viader, Paul Hobbs, Faust, Silverado and Quintessa have utilized these vineyards for their wine production. Coombsville terroir imparts a subtle power and silky structure to wines nurtured in this cradle.

Touring Coombsville

Javier Hernandez, Director of Product Development for Napa Private Tours was my guide. Javier, a.k.a Flako (“The k is for the extra kilos I carry.” he says.) seems to know everyone in Napa Valley.

He arrives suitable attired, down to the white gloves. He opens the door of the Mercedes Benz SUV and pours a glass of California sparkling wine. I sip the wine and enjoyed a few strawberries while we travel to Coombsville. We are to visit three wineries this afternoon.

The views are breathtaking as we bound down roads not well traveled - seriously, winding narrow roads few vehicles traverse. This is not a tourist destination. This place is for serious wine drinkers. Flako stopped at the gate of Porter Family Vineyards and calls to be let in.

Porter Family Vineyards

Do you remember the floppy disc? Tom Porter invented it.

This computer science pioneer had a very successful career in computer technology. His curiosity for processes and natural discipline for details are seen at his winery. It is immaculate. A gravity flow crush pad and a wine making process allow wines to be made without ever passing through a pump. A high-tech system for measuring every aspect of the process is deployed. The attention to precise detail shows through in the wines.

The most popular wine is Sandpiper Red

Named for the sandpipers whose tracks were found fossilized on the property, Sandpiper Red is an estate blend that varies year to year. The 2014 is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec. It is a wonderful foodie wine with expressive earth notes along with red fruit and dusty tannins.

On to Italics

Italics is owned by a family with deep Texas roots. Upon meeting Taylor Martin, the managing partner and owner’s grandson, we discover he spent many summers at South Padre Island, where I also have spent many summers. We reminisce a few moments about Manuel’s Tacos in Port Isabel (a Texas iconic treasure). I am amazed at the people I run into with roots in the Rio Grande Valley.

Italics offers tours of their amazing cave. It is an exquisite display of modern design in a farming community. Winemaker Steve Reynolds crafts the wines, among which are an estate cabernet sauvignon and an estate petit verdot.

The most interesting one though is Italics Sixteen Appellations

A Bordeaux blend sourced from notable vineyards in sixteen AVAs inside of Napa Valley. I am impressed by how each appellation can be depicted in the wine. The red fruits of Stag’s Leap District, supple tannins of Diamond Mountain and the Rutherford dust are all there and very distinct.

Final Stop – Caldwell

Ramiro Herrera greets the car as we arrive. Ramiro is the only master cooper in the Americas; Ramiro makes barrels. His employer, John Caldwell sent him to France to study; John Caldwell has his own cooperage in the winery. The cooper story is not the only story Ramiro regals us with. His boss is not just a grape grower and winery owner, he is a smuggler too.

While the US was fighting the war on drugs, searching for cocaine being smuggled across the southern border, John Caldwell was smuggling vines of French clones across the northern border. The USDA does not take kindly to such behavior. Luckily, after a few questionings and searches, the vines were safely planted and two years later were a large part of the Dunn 1986 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – 92 points, Parker. The entire story can be read at www.caldwellvineyard.com/smuggling-story.

A wine to make note of, that reflects John Caldwell’s maverick spirit is Rocket Science

It’s not any type of blend made before. It’s different every year and made with no rules attached. The 2015 is made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah, pinot noir, tannat and malbec. It is full of fruit and exotic flavors. It offers soft chocolaty tannins and a long rich finish.

A new AVA in Napa Valley calls for a trip to Napa Valley and Coombsville in particular. The area is very different from the main roads in Napa. One does not see signs for wineries and one cannot simply pop in for a tasting. Coombsville is what Napa used to be before in became the tourist destination it is today.

Coombsville offers little in the way of shops and trinkets. It does however offer gorgeous views, amazing stories, interesting people and expressive wines.


Lorelei Helmke CSW

Wine Siren

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