Napa county contains, within it's geographical boundaries, certain areas that exhibit distinct microclimates and terrains that are said to impress upon the grapes grown within them, definite and distinctively recognisable characteristics. Sort of comparable to the French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system, these appellations in the United States are known as American Viticultural Areas (AVA). To be even considered for AVA status, supporting data must be submitted to the government which, after requiring applicants to jump through hoops of red tape, decides whether the proposed AVA designation will be granted. The entire Napa Valley is itself an AVA, but within the Napa Valley there exist 15 distinct sub-AVAs.
I work in the Oakville AVA, but I live in a different part of the valley known as Coombsville. I can personally attest to the fact that the microclimate in Coombsville, or as Vinomaker likes to call it, The Tundra, is considerably cooler than the rest of the valley. Coombsville looks like it is on track to be the Napa Valley's newest AVA. It's ironic, considering the Coombsville area has a longer history of winemaking than most of the rest of the valley. Indeed, the Coombsville area gets it's name from Nathan Coombs, the founder of the city of Napa, and historical records show that some of the first vineyards in the valley were planted here prior to 1870.
This afternoon, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Coombsville Vintners & Growers Association's inaugural trade and media tasting. There are currently 38 member wineries in total, 21 showed up for this event. The wineries that were pouring definitely offered up wines that really seemed to display characteristics unique to this area located in the south eastern corner of the Napa Valley. The temperate climate here, the one that Vinomaker so often complains about, effects an extended growing season which lends itself to full phenologic maturation of the grapes. This, in turn manifests itself in medium to full-bodied wines that display true varietal characteristics with fabulously, finessed flavour profiles.
It was a pleasantly eye-opening event. I suppose it took the petition for AVA status to cause many of these wineries, (that I wasn't even aware existed until very recently), to seemingly appear from out of the woodwork. Hats off to whomever was responsible for organising these wineries into one association. Wineries that particularly stood out for me were; Black Cat (Tracey Reichow's wonderful Syrah was, as always, delicious), Daviana, Farella, Inherit The Sheep (adorable label), Porter, and Prime. Working my way around the different stations it was glaringly apparent that this is a collection of like-minded individuals who are in the wine business because they are very passionate about the wines they craft. This is a group of vintners and growers who are very happy to share their wines with anyone who wants to taste them, and you could tell they were loving every minute of it. The whole atmosphere struck me as very different from the sadly jaded attitudes that can often be encountered in many of the upvalley wineries.
I spoke to a lot of people and tasted a lot of nicely, handcrafted wines. One of my favourite comments came from the winemaker for Blue Oak Vineyard, Grant Long. Although the majority of the wines being showcased were Cabernets, Grant was pouring a really bold Merlot. At 200 cases this is a tiny production which apparently was aged in oak for 30 months. I questioned the length of time in oak and the winemaker responded thus: "If you make Merlot, make it memorable." Fair enough.
For me, this was a thoroughly enjoyable event. I wish all concerned the speedy confirmation of their, in my humble opinion, well deserved AVA status.