Discover ‘The Taste of Coombsville’
This may be Napa’s hottest new AVA, but it’s also the coolest: literally.
With its proximity to the maritime influence of the San Pablo Bay, Coombsville was once considered “too cool” for Cab. Not so, says John Caldwell, owner of one of the largest vineyards in the 11,000-acre AVA, “Cabernet Sauvignon exemplifies the ‘taste of Coombsville.’ Caldwell declares. “As rockstar winemaker Andy Erickson says, ‘Coombsville wine speaks of place.’”
Established in 2011, Coombsville sits at the southern edge of Napa Valley, receiving the cooling effects of the wind and fog earlier in the day, bringing down average high temperatures by as much as 10°F during summer months. During the winter, the warmer-than-air water helps reduce the chances of ruinous frost. But the area’s distinctively intense and acid-blessed wines owe much of their unique character to the soils of an extinct volcano.
Let’s visit some of the Coombsville winery players and places you should know.
Among Coombsville’s biggest fans is the legendary Warren Winiarski, whose winning of the 1976 Judgment of Paris put Napa on the map. His 85-acre Arcadia Vineyards supplies Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
Warren Winiarski and John Kongsgaard
“My main focus is getting wines of Coombsville to reach their potential,” says Winiarski. “Coombsville was considered too cool for Cab when I arrived in the 1970s. But that’s the western side of the valley. On the east side, we don’t get the full sweep of the maritime influence.” He’s working with clones and trellising to create more perfect, uniform ripeness from berry to berry. “Uniformity helps you get to the perfect ripeness that creates a complete story.”
John Kongsgaard of Konsgaard Wines was called “The Chardonnay Master from Cabernet Country,” a decade ago by Wine Spectator. “When I planted our first Chardonnay vines in Coombsville in 1975, there couldn’t have been many,” says Kongsgaard, who interned with Winiarski at Stag’s Leap. He admits surprise that his friend and neighbor, André Tchelistcheff, made the suggestion. “Our site has very shallow volcanic soil, which strongly restricts the vines vigor and crop level. Across several selections of Chardonnay that we grow, our clusters are less than half the weight of ‘normal’ Chardonnay.”
He makes a single vineyard Chardonnay, called “The Judge,” named for his late father who was the Judge in Napa. “I really only know two sites, ours, on a unique volcanic hill separating Napa from Coombsville, and Warren Winiarski’s, at the base of Mt. George (1877 ft). The two splendid wines are related in intensity. I think the magic boils down to Coombsville having very complex volcanic soil in a very cool part of the valley.” Taste the magic by appointment.
Ackerman Family Vineyards began when high-tech marketing consultant, Lauren Ackerman, purchased the 11-acre Stonehaven Vineyard in 1994 and transformed it into the first certified organic vineyard in Coombsville. In 2010, she acquired a faded Queen Anne in downtown Napa, built in 1888, and restored what is now the Ackerman Heritage House to its former splendor. Here, you can taste wines like the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon (100%) made by Winemaker Leo Tellez, whose grandfather and father worked for Charles Krug and Robert Mondavi respectively. French Laundry chefs serve exquisite meals for private parties and weddings, and hold cooking classes in the kitchen. Book a tasting in the carriage house and courtyard, or enjoy the grandeur of their sumptuous monthly teas, served on Victorian era china and linens. The in-house tea bend is fittingly called Lady Ackerman.
Since 2005, winemaker Dawnine Dyer has made wine from the highly renowned Meteor Vineyard, which was planted in 1999 on the slopes of Mt. George. She sources 20% of the 22-acre vineyard to make Perseid (a mix of Cabernet Clone 4, 7 and 337, 70% new) and Special Family Reserve, 100% Cabernet Clone 7, planted on St. George rootstock, and aged in 100% new French. “The wines are characteristically a deep, blue-hued color with concentrated bright red fruits in the aromas and flavors,” says Dyer. “To me, the crowning joy of the wines is the structure. Round tannins with great volume supported by a firm acidity. Rich wines that are proving to have great longevity.” Much of the Meteor fruit goes to other chic brands, like DuMol, Etude, Favia and Arietta.
Favia is the brand of rockstar winemaker, Andy Erickson (Screaming Eagle, Ovid, Delle Valle) and his wife Annie Favia, a viticulturist originally from Connecticut, who trained under John Kongsgaard, Cathy Corison and David Abreu. In 2014, they resurrected an old stonehouse built in 1886 by Antonio Carbone, an Italian immigrant from Genoa, who established Coombsville’s first winery. It is now their home and production facility, surrounded by fruit trees, olive groves, and vineyards. They produce a 100% Cabernet from Coombsville, and taste by appointment Monday through Friday.
Faust wines are a testament to the concentration, yet lifted nature of the estate vineyard planted by the Huneeus family in 1998 on the site of a former dairy. The Pact is pure 100% Cabernet aged in 40% new French for two years, exhibiting intense blue and black fruit and a daring acid profile that typifies Coombsville. Taste Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the 19th century Victorian Faust Haus in St. Helena.
Winegrower John Caldwell of Caldwell Vineyard tells us what makes Coombsville special. “Location, location, location. This combination of warmer temps in the spring and cooler in the summer, allows winemakers to hang their red varieties much longer, developing complexity, deep color, softer tannins without loosing acidity. I have nine red varieties and every one makes wonderful wines. My favorites are CS, CF, Merlot, and Carmenere. But some years, like 2019, the Petit Verdot and Tannat stand out. Cabernet Sauvignon exemplifies the ‘taste of Coombsville.’ As Andy Erickson says, ‘Coombsville wine speaks of place.’”
Unique experiences at Caldwell include tastings in the cave ($130pp), which features 24 unique wines paired with cheese and charcuterie, and unforgettable tales: some of them mostly true.
Arietta, founded by famed auctioneer Fritz Hatton and Caren Frutig Hatton, in partnership with winemaker John Kongsgaard and his wife Maggy in 1996, is based on a love of fine wine and classical music. Andy Erickson crafts the music-themed Bordeaux-style blends, including the Arietta “88 Keys” Cabernet Sauvignon, a two-barrel lot from Meteor Vineyard that sleeps a bit longer in oak and wakes up to rave reviews. Their Generations Tasting is oriented to “next gen” family members (over 21) of subscribers interested in wine.
The wine labels of Porter Family Vineyards draw inspiration from the fossilized footprint of a sandpiper discovered in the volcanic ash-covered former shoreline of their 14-acre vineyard while digging the winery cave. Primarily focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, they also produce a Sandpiper Red (Merlot & Cab), a 100% Merlot, and a Cave Dweller’s Blend. Private experiences are offered mostly to club members and their guests; however, tastings can be arranged by calling 707-927-0765.
Scalon Cellars is a partnership between Jesus Espinoza, Vineyard Manager, and Cruz Calderon, who met at Caldwell Cellars when Calderon was building the famous Caldwell cave. Julien Fayard crafts wines in that very cellar from the vines Jesus planted, among them a pure Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Tastings by appointment.
Palmaz Vineyards has one of the largest caves and vineyards in Coombsville, with plantings ranging from 300 feet above sea level, to the top of Mount George at 1,400 feet. Tour the multilevel cave and then enjoy a seated tasting of wines paired with gourmet delicacies.
Where to Stay:
- The Meritage Resort – Casual resort with dining, and extensive spa services, including a 22k ft spa cave
- Stanly Ranch – an Aubergere Collection property offering guestrooms, suites, and villas, featuring onsite dining options, including a series of harvest-themed dinners throughout the year (May is Edible Flowers; August is Basil).