Monday, July 20, 2009

Coombsville or Tulocay: What’s in a Name

Once again, Judy Diaz has provided a set of not-to-be-missed wineries for me to sample. This time, we’re in Coombsville, a wine district with distinct terroir, but, as yet, without an AVA (American Viticultural Area). There was some debate as to what name to use. The submitted and rejected choice was Tulocay, but as this is also the name of the local cemetery, it did not have a lot of support. “Try the wines of Tulocay, they’re dry as dust”, just brings in the wrong connotations, don’t you think?

Others think Coombsville sounds redneck. Touring the area, feeling the rich volcanic soil, and the beautiful vineyards that lace the hillsides, redneck is the last thing to come to my mind. And after all, it’s not called Hicksville. (Oh boy, I’ll hear it from the Hicksville folks now.) Whatever they finally call it, some very special wines come from this area of Napa, and interest is growing fast.

The proximity to San Pablo Bay keeps the area cooler than the Napa valley floor north of here. Many vineyards are located at 300 to 500 feet. The grapes mature to full ripeness without the higher sugar content of the hotter areas of Napa. Fruit from this region has been used to make outstanding Bordeaux-styled wines for many years, but only recently has the area come into its own for its smaller lot producers.

The red grapes produce wines that are very dark and blue-black in color. Typical flavors of dark fruit and plums, layered with dried herbs and black olives make for unique and flavorful wines. The tannins are silky and fine, with good alcohol levels and acidity, making for nicely balanced wines. The ones I tried expressed a subtle power and grace and made me an instant believer in what this area’s terroir brings to the plate.

We visited three very different, but very good wineries in this tour: Ancien Wines, Porter Family Vineyards, and Tournesol. One thing they all have in common is winemaker Ken Bernards. Ken is the founder and wine maker for Ancien Wines where he pursues his goal to create Pinot Noir from a wide range of vineyard locations. Visionary Winemaker should probably be his full title, as he has exhibited great vision since turning to the craft in 1986.

Beginning as a research enologist at Domain Chandon, he took over as winemaker at Truchard Vineyards, making hand-crafted single-vineyard wines while founding and getting Ancien off the ground. He also helped design the high-tech winery of Porter Family Vineyards. His understanding of the unique terroir of the Coombsville/Mt. George area is probably second to none. Tasting the wines of all three sites, I can attest to his skills.

Our host on this tour was Curtis Strohl, the marketing director of Ancien Wines, who provided good background on the wineries and their history, and introductions to the winemakers. His personal and friendly approach accounted for much of the success of the tour. Thank you, Curtis.

Please see the related blogs on each of these wineries for descriptions of some of the special wines that come from this district.

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