Wine without crowds in Napa's backyard
Blue Oak Merlot, which is named for the regal blue oak tree in the backyard, is perhaps California's best merlot — Chicago Tribune
By Bob Ecker, Special to Tribune Newspapers
9:07 p.m. CDT, April 24, 2012
When people think of Napa Valley, they often think of AVA (American Viticultural Area), the designated wine-growing regions that produce some of the best wines in the world. Areas like Stags Leap, Oakville, Howell Mountain, Rutherford and Mount Veeder come to mind. But Coombsville?
Yes, now Coombsville can stand next to those well-known wine locales. This pretty, 11,000-acre rural region just east of the city of Napa recently became the 16th AVA in Napa County. Named for Nathan Coombs, a prominent community leader and founder of Napa (1847), Coombsville has long been regarded as a superb spot for growing grapes but was somewhat out of the way from the mainstream wine-making centers.
Today more than 20 wineries are producing wines in Coombsville.
Generally hilly with vineyards at varying elevations, the area is protected from the wind by ridges, knolls and mountains, and the soil is a mix of ancient volcanic ash and rocky alluvial soils. The microclimates appear ideal for the production of elegant red wines.
"We're at the cooler end of the valley," said Ken Bernards, founder and winemaker of Ancien Wines. "Our wines tend to be less monolithic and more complex."
Visitors won't find big hotels, restaurants, shops or wineries in Coombsville. Instead, they will discover pastoral winding roads, a few houses dotted here and there, and select vineyard-wineries hidden from view.
"It's a well-kept secret," said Don Baker, winemaker for Sciandri Family Vineyards in Coombsville (sciandrivineyards.com). "Coombsville is like much of Napa Valley 40 years ago."
No crowds, lines of cars or limos — it's just Napa's backyard. The few visitors who discover Coombsville will be rewarded with a very mellow wine-tasting experience — by appointment only.
Another ideal aspect to Coombsville is its proximity to Napa's downtown — it's less than a 10-minute drive (or easy bike ride) from the city's many restaurants, hotels and entertainment.
Here are some of the wineries in Coombsville to check out.
Meteor Vineyard is a gorgeous vineyard property off Third Street and produces some of the most outstanding cabernets in Napa Valley. Walk through the vineyards and experience the breadth and scope of Coombsville; you can see Mount George in the north, the Vaca Mountain range to the east and the Carneros region to the southwest. MeteorVineyard.com
Black Cat Vineyard, run by irrepressible owner/winemaker Tracey Reichow, is a spot to slow down and enjoy wine and conversation with the winemaker. It's her house, after all, and she treats visitors like long-lost friends. blackcatvineyard.com
Aonair Wine is another comfortable wine-tasting spot nestled in the rolling hills. Proprietor and winemaker Grant Long effortlessly turns on the charm as he pours his bold red wines in a converted barn or on his outdoor patio. Long's side project, Blue Oak Merlot, which is named for the regal blue oak tree in the backyard, is perhaps California's best merlot. AonairWine.com
Tournesol is one Coombsville property that most resembles other well-known Napa wineries. Ornate and opulent, visitors can't help but be impressed by owner Robert Arns' home, his landscaping, architecture and delectable wines, not to mention his vintage car collection. tournesolwine.com
Ancien Wines is Coombsville's place for pinot noir, and owner Ken Bernards (also winemaker at nearby Tournesol) will explain why, as he takes his guests into the vineyards to sample wines and chat by an outdoor fire pit. Homey and unpretentious, Bernards and his wines are worth seeking out. ancienwines.com
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