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Monday Meanderings



To Napa today to explore the Coombsville region, where I’ve been only 2 or 3 times before. Although I’m armed with some pretty good directions, there’s an insecure part of me that always fears getting lost on these wine trips. Especially when it’s raining, as it will be today in Napa. Anyway, I’ve been tasting the wines from most of the producers from Coombsville lately and must say I’m impressed. I had only a vague notion of what that southeastern tip of Napa Valley is capable of. Now, I have a little more–which I hope will be augmented by today’s trip. I’ve always said, you can’t really appreciate terroir without walking it. I also love topo maps that show where the local weather influences come from (in Coombsville’s case, San Pablo Bay), but also how the lay of the land (in Coombsville’s case, the southern spur of the Vacas) helps shelter it from the winds of Carneros. Interesting stuff.

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Met up yesterday in San Francisco with two fine winemakers, Fintan Du Fresne, from Chamisal in the Edna Valley, and Michael Beaulac, who presides over Pine Ridge, in Napa Valley. A pleasure to taste through some of their latest releases, and also to learn a little more about their hopes and aspirations. I mentioned to Fintan that I don’t have a good understanding of the ageability of Edna Valley Pinot Noirs, so we’re going to try and get together a vertical of some of the wines from down there. Naturally, being with Fintan, the subject of screwtops came up, and I told him what a total non-issue it is for me. However, I understand that consumers remain puzzled. We writers are working on educating them, but it takes time.

* * *

Thursday, I think, is Beaujolais Nouveau day, if I’m not mistaken. I haven’t had one in years, but I used to go to Kermit Lynch’s big parking lot party in Berkeley every Nov. 21, where he’d serve up vast quantities of that purple, slightly fizzy stuff, and serve it with what may be the best food to drink it with: grilled sausages. Here in California, Montevina used to make a Zinfandel Neuvo, using the carbonic maceration method, which was pretty much the closest to Beaujolais Nouveau we’ve ever had. (Am I forgetting someone else? I’m sure a faithful reader will remind me if I am.) That Montevina was a wine I loved! But alas, it didn’t seem too popular with the mass consumer market, and to the best of my knowledge Montevina discontinued it. Too bad; nice wine, and you could chill it. Yesterday, Fintan asked me what’s new in California wine, from my perspective. My immediate reaction: Two great vintages in a row (2012-2013) after two, and possibly three (counting 2009) difficult ones. But I added, also, that I find California to be in a very conservative mindset, vis a vis the wine industry. Not much innovation, like that Zinfandel Nuevo of long ago. I thnk the Recession scared the daylights out of producers, and when a producer is frightened, he’s loathe to try new things, instead doubling down on tried-and-true products.

If you’re in California–stay dry! But we need the rain.



  1. Really explored Coombsville for the first time myself earlier this year and was also duly impressed. If you get a chance, get over to Caldwell Vineyard as it’s a great place to survey the surrounding area from, as well as to taste wines from several producers, including one of Napa’s rising stars (in my opinion)- Moone Tsai.

  2. “But I added, also, that I find California to be in a very conservative mindset, vis a vis the wine industry. Not much innovation, like that Zinfandel Nuevo of long ago.”

    I would argue otherwise here. I think there’s a lot of innovation going on in Calif. Lots of interest in new varieties…Ribolla, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Refosco, Vermentino, Albarino, Mondeuse, LaCrima di Morra d’Alba, Fiano, Teroldego…man…the list goes on & on. Some strong interest in skin-contact whites made in a reductive manner (not so much in the oxidative manner..or orange wines). Use of concrete eggs. Creation of value wines by high-end producers. Although I’m not sure “revolution” is the appropriate terminology, but Jon’s new book outlines a lot of the new things going on. Of course, Rombauer, Inglenook, Beaulieu, Gallo, etc. are continuing w/ the same ole, same ole. But there’s a lot new going on out there.
    Cary’s Neuvo Zin was, indeed, a pretty delish wine. But w/ his departure from Montevina and Trinchero’s takeover, it died a quiet death.
    I should point out that both CharlesShaw (back when there was a real/flesh&blood CharlesShaw) and RobertPecota were focused on Gamay and made, as I recall, Noveau wine.

  3. Montevina Zinfandel NUEVO – Amador County
    Carbonic maceration. 1/2 gallon jugs – delicious.


  4. I’m with Tom Hill. This past weekend I visited Ryan and Megan Glaab, of Ryme Cellars. They are making Vermentino (both a clean and skin-fermented version), Ribolla (skin fermented) and Anglianico. I hear a Fiano is in the tank now. The same day, also visited Fred Scherrer, and tasted exquisite Pinots. One of the things that I like about California is that “classic” and “out-of-the-box” coexist, and you can find beautiful expressions of both, almost next door to each other.

    Wow–Bill Easton. I recall many lunches and dinners at your shop on Solano. Really enhanced my appreciation of wine.

  5. Gene Heller says:

    When you were in Coombsville did you happen to visit or taste at Tulocay?

  6. “you can’t really appreciate terroir without walking in it”. Brilliant!

    We are making some gamay neauveau in the Willamette Valley, and this Thursday will be a nice little showcase for some creative local winemakers.

  7. In 2011 Failla released the Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay from the Coombsville region. My favorite of Ehren’s Chardonnay’s.

  8. Gene: No, I didn’t.

  9. My assistant winemaker made the follow-up to Montevina Zinfandel Nuevo when he was working there and they called it Montevina Brioso. Now discontinued. I don’t think it is economical to make this sort of wine today with current viticultural and production costs at artisan wineries.

  10. Bill Easton, I’m sure you’re right. But that Nuevo was a cool little wine.

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