Read the article on San Francisco Magazine!
Napa Valley may be primarily known for its big, bold and tannic cabernet sauvignon, yet the jewel of American wine country is sprawling. The most storied appellations of Rutherford, Oakville and Howell Mountain have proven enduring success with their production of quintessential cabernets, showcasing persistent tannins, dense dark fruit like plum, blackberry and black currants punctured by notes of tobacco and dark chocolate.
However, in the past decade, Coombsville AVA has garnered attention for its unique style of cabernet worth discovering. The cabernet here is vibrant, offering fresh fruit and soft, balanced tannins with a minerality reminiscent of clean slate.
“You can always tell in a blind tasting when we get to Coombsville—it gets darker, bluer and fresher,” says Jen Beloz, estate director at Faust (faustwines.com).
When Agustin Huneeus planted Faust’s first Bordeaux varieties in the region in 1998, Coombsville wasn’t a designated AVA; this was also the case with Andy Erickson at Favia (faviawine.com) and rewinding even further to 1975 when Tulocay Winery (tulocay.com) began producing vineyard-designate, single-varietal wines. Coombsville was officially designated as an AVA in 2011.
What makes Coombsville a compelling grape-growing region today is its cool temperatures. This was once considered a drawback, says Brie Cadman, winemaker and co-owner of Tulocay Winery. “The cooler climate means we have a longer growing season, which can help ripen the fruit to phenolic maturity,” Cadman explains.
Unlike warmer AVAs, Coombsville winemakers “are rarely concerned about sugar accumulation racing ahead of physiological berry maturity [so] we can wait patiently for the seeds and skins to ripen to full maturity without fear that the sugar will be too high,” adds Paul Hobbs, winemaker and owner of Paul Hobbs Winery (paulhobbswinery.com). The result is a cabernet with observably more polyphenolic extract or more color (specifically an inky-garnet pigmentation, according to Hobbs) and sweet tannin.
Another site-specific characteristic of Coombsville cabernet is its mineral tension, influenced by the volcanic soils found here; it’s an ancient caldera. There are veins of decomposed ash that run through the vineyard that present as “graphite and wet stone aromatics as well as in the finish,” says Beloz. She notes: If you walk through the vineyard and dig through the soils, you’ll physically feel what’s responsible for that fine grain tannin and signature texture of Coombsville cabernet.
The fine-grain tannins also contribute to the wine’s ageability. Though Coombsville cabernet presents fresher fruit and vibrancy, Hobbs says, “well-made reds from Coombsville will generally outage their up-valley brethren grown on the valley floor.” With more time in the bottle, he says the wine’s “oyster shell, sea salt, crunchy minerality” develops to “beautiful tertiary notes of tobacco leaf, cigar box and cedar.”
As for why Coombsville is only now receiving more attention for its cabernet, Andy Erickson credits a shift in modern consumer preferences. “People are looking for more balance,” he says, acknowledging the wine’s exceptional poise of freshness and acidity. “I like to say that the wines have the concentration you can expect from Napa Valley, but with more of a European aroma and flavor profile.”