The SOMM Journal

August / September 2016

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20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2016 { planet grape } JUST FIVE MINUTES EAST OF BUSTLING downtown Napa, with its popular riverfront and Oxbow Market, is bucolic, off-the-beaten- path Coombsville, a cool southern valley area protected by an ancient caldera which was granted AVA status in December 2011. Sleepy Coombsville is everything Napa used to be—rolling hills, open green spaces, horses grazing, deer crossing single-lane roads and drivers who are not in any particular rush. No Ubers. No busses. No balloons. And no Starbucks. Which is fine by locals. And lucky for them, they are likely to see few changes, as it is a water-deficit area. Coombsville is on a mission to make a name for its local wines, modeling them after the big, rich, tannic Napa Cabernets that have become world-famous and highly sought after. Proximity to San Pablo Bay and varied elevations, however, tend to slow ripening of this heat-loving grape. Black Cat Vineyard owner Tracey Reichow refers to this as a "long landing pad." There are some 25–30 production facilities, 52 member wineries—most out - side the appellation—and 387 labels that use Coombsville AVA fruit, albeit often without mention, keeping the Napa Valley name prominent. Any winery visits are by appointment only, including to the brand new Covert Winery, which hosted the recent Coombsville Vintners & Growers Association trade tasting. The seated tasting showcased ten of the local wines, including the plush Ancien Mink Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir, with notes of cherry cola, tangerine and vanilla; the lively Black Cat Vineyard 2013 Syrah, with intense berry fruit, hay, chamo - mile and fresh acidity; and several 2012 Cabernets, all but one of which clocked in between 14.7–15.2 % ABV, including that of our host, the Covert Estate 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville(14.9%). In very good company—including John Winthrop Haeger, Michele Ana Jordan, Virginie Boone and Luke Sykora—I was lucky to be sitting next to the usually out - spoken Dan Berger. But when he didn't speak up, I did. I asked about the level of alcohol that, in combination with lavish oak tannins, made the wines very bold and muscular, and in need of much aeration or aging. The answers were swift and to the point. One winemaker said, "At 15.5 you can have structure and balance and medi - ate the greenness, and there is a one point variation allowed from what the label says." Greenness? Ah, I see. In competing with the ripest Cabernets in the world, there is a need to out-ripen any sense of green. But it makes me wonder what this cool, southern Napa region could do if it looked more to a region such as Margaux, rather than trying to compete with Stags Leap or even the hourglass further north (the pinch in the valley near St. Helena, which some produc - ers say is the best place in the world to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon). One of my favorite Cabernets of the tast - ing was the Marita's Vineyard 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley–Coombsville, fine and elegant with cherry, blueberry, gentle tannins and natural acidity. A blockbuster? No. But would I drink it with dinner? Absolutely. And with Coombsville featured prominently on the front label, the area may finally earn its well-deserved recognition. PHOTOS COURTESY OF COOMBSVILLE VINTNERS AND GROWERS Out from under the Shadow of Napa Valley DISCOVERING THE LONG-ESTABLISHED, NEWLY RECOGNIZED COOMBSVILLE AVA by Catherine Fallis, MS

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