The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2013

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Terroir Is a Tree Falling in the Forest by Randy Caparoso T DISCOVERING THE TASTE OF PLACE IN NAPA'S COOMBSVILLE AVA PHOTO: RANDY CAPAROSO In Collinetta Vineyard: Francesca Cunningham, Jenn Wagner and Brian Kulich and of Block 122 (foreground), with John Taylor and Paul Coluantoni of Rocca Family Vineyards. erroir might be an over-used term, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. A tree falls in a forest—you might not hear it, but nevertheless it has fallen. That said, it is also true that even the finest American wines never seem as strongly "terroir-driven"—that is, tasting distinctly of the place (be it a region or vineyard) in which they are grown—as, say, the finest wines of Europe. Maybe it's because the vast majority of American producers are obsessed with branding and uniformity— the idea that a wine should taste exactly the same way, bottle after bottle, year after year, necessitating the blending of grape sources to the point where vineyard individuality no longer matters. No wonder terroir is rarely associated with American wines. Maybe it's also because, in the U.S., sales are driven so much by 100-point score that the objective has become not to produce a wine that tastes "of a place," but rather to please buyers who have specific ideas of what a "Cabernet Sauvignon" or "Chardonnay" should taste like, no matter where or how it's grown. But the fact remains: Great wines can, and often do, taste very strongly of their place of origin, if you let them. Terroir even exists even in American-grown wines, but you have to appreciate it whenever you find it. Which is why, this past April, the 30-somethings behind the new social media and online sales site called Block 122 (www. went so primate upon tasting the wines of Rocca Family Vineyards, during a visit to this Napa Valley winery's Cabernet Sauvignon plantings in the new Coombsville AVA, approved in 2011. The founding partners behind Block 122—Francesca Cunningham, Alisha Grieser, Brian Kulich and Jenn Wagner—all come out of a fine restaurant background, some 40 years combined, working as waiters at venerated San Francisco restaurant Boulevard. The Block 122 folks base their philosophy on the simple concept: The best wines aren't made, they're grown, even when made by great winemakers. After tasting the Rocca 2009 Collinetta Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Kulich declared, "You couldn't find a Cabernet that's more the opposite of the usual big, oaky, blockbuster style of Napa Cabernet. It's not about body or fruit intensity; it's about the unique part of the Valley where it's grown." Coombsville is an appellation tucked into the southeastern corner of Napa Valley, where the climate is cooler, and vineyards like the 11-acre Collinetta are planted on hillsides with stingy soils, replete with gravel, marine sediment and volcanic rhyolitic tuff. Rocca winemaker Paul Colantuoni contrasts Collinetta with their 21-acre Grigsby Vineyard, located more towards the center of Napa Valley in the Yountville AVA, where the climate is warmer and the alluvial soils a little richer. "You can walk through the two vineyards and see the differences," says Colantuoni, "but even if you don't, you can still see the differences by opening the bottles and tasting them—the contrast is dramatic." Indeed, the Rocca 2009 Grigsby Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is classically "Napa" in its deep, dense, layered intensity, with fruit as plump as plum pie. The 2009 Collinetta is just as sleek and hunky, but stronger in tertiary, non-fruit qualities—pipe tobacco, cedar shavings, dried eucalyptus leaves and roasted peppers—that come intertwined with cassis-like varietal fruit. You can bark about terroir being a figment of wine geek imagination all you like. If you prefer Cabernet Sauvignons that conform to high-scoring varietal profiles, then vineyard distinctions don't matter to you anyhow. But if you're like the Block 122 people, who value individuality over uniformity, then for you terroir is not only a real thing, it's the only thing—whether you recognize it or not. 66  /  the tasting panel  /  june 2013 TP0613_042-79.indd 66 5/23/13 4:33 PM

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