Kenneth Friedenreich, wine editor

By the time you realize you were in Coomsville, you’ve probably driven past unaware. It is not a dinky town–how could it be? sitting inside a spent volcano–but as a YouTube video suggests, the wineries here want you to put all the razzmatazz aside and explore their AVA minutes from the center of Napa proper. Here us the URL:

Tulocay is one of the winery properties that has long flown under the radar. Coomsville, situated on the southeastern extremity of Napa Valley became an AVA in 2014. Tulocay proprietor Bill Cadman seems to dispense a Napa Valley vaccine intended to counter the epidemic of ego-driven, lifestyle strutting, number crunching wine “experiences” that almost present more caricature than unique character.

Coomsville comprises about 11,000 acres of land, characterized by rocky soils marked by gravel and in places volcanic ash. The grapes ripen slowly in a district cosseted by fog and marine air. Yields bring small clusters with good acid balances setting off fruit with concentrated qualities a longer growing season provides. Tulocay is typical of the AVA, rising from river level to about 900 feet in places, harvesting primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. At first sip the wines display a kind of natural clarity.

I like most about the Tulocay property and its neighbors the promise of great wine to come as experienced several generations ago. It owes much to faith grapes will take here, and the locals have proven it so.

Tulocay began making wine here in 1975, and daughter Bree is already assuming the winemaking, keeping continuity in the brand as well as the family.

The Cabernet, in particular isn’t trying to be Bordeaux replicated; rather, it expresses the same varietal in an original context. This is why Napa Valley rocks. Or off its rocker to those accustomed to marble pillared, Spanish Baroque, woodland monuments with panoramic views of stretch limos and chattering multitudes.

First off, your stretch SUV won’t get up the slope. Second, the wild turkeys are pets, not your quarry. Don’t eat them. Then, be ready for Buddy the Dog, a Maltese something or other who acts like Napoleon. He really is nice once he figures out that your pants hem is not made of Kibbles.

For example, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon will won’t resemble a steroid injection; that is, the kind of fruit forward, heavily oaked, obrweighted style typical of big name wines from the Valley that hit the nose and palate like a longshoreman wielding a section of metal pipe.

Frankly, my cohort Cab fans were taken aback by the absence of an assault. The nose is earthy, with plenty of black and cherry. But it doesn’t wear out its welcome. And the tannins are firm enough to suggest a year or two more in the cellar would do just fine. The fruit neither overpowers or disappears. In this respect alone, the Tulocay Cabernet from this great vintage across the boards sets itself aside from more extracted, bulked up powerhouses produced elsewhere in the valley from 23,000 acres planted of this money grape.

And for good measure, this wine really lights up a glass with beautiful garnet hues. We may wonder about general impressions Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon made at one time around the world, when Napa Valley had yet to take its place at the world’s table. This wine will respect food, not inundate it. And speaking of tables, the tasting room at Tulocay is the table in the dining room. Napa Valley once was more like this before it became the destination synonymous with “wine country.”

No less important, this wine will keep.

Pinot Noir as produced variously in California has earned its rightful place. I remember fondly some Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara and points north, and remain loyal to Russian River producers such as Dutton Goldfield and J. Rochioli. More than a little Pinot Noir arrives out of Carneros, like those of Clos DuVal and Road 31. Tulocay’s 2015 Coomsville entrant to this steeplechase of my long held affections and prejudices warrants your consideration.

It may share the maritime fog and moderating temperatures of the Carneros, but this wine made just over the knoll and up the road could have been produced on Planet Zendor. It differs so greatly; one of the merits of diversity that isn’t just rhetoric.

Start with the nose. Those violets will tickle your toes. It dances. The air releases a fever of blackberry and some tart cherries, mingled with what can rightly be called earth tones. The acid balance is in your sipping from start to pleasing finish, holding the impression of a fine food wine–we gamboled through the wabes of smoked, peppery gouda and deli ham that proved not all marriages must begin–or end–with a shotgun. As the stem gave up its incandescent and regal colors, i was sorry to see it all go, but really liked making acquaintance of this wine.

I would be remiss should space preclude mentioning the Petite Syrah and Zinfandel offerings from the same vintage, 2015, so rightly admired. Still, I want to comment on the two Chardonnay offerings. Two?

The Cadmans have been drawing their fruit from the Haynes estate, not out of walking distance from their winery. It is their primary supplier in their thousand plus case output. Low output is a signature of Coomsville winemakers.

One Chardonnay is barrel aged long enough to assert its oak and all the attendant stimuli this practice translates into your glass.
The second one skips the furniture department. It is stainless, not merely because of its fermentation container. It is minimalism in a glass, like an original Breuer chair is the chair minus the flounce, bounce, and the remains of Buddy’s latest field trophy. This wine allows one to savor the citrus and minerals, the mere suggestion of flora and the dependable marine fog. But most of all, this Haynes Chardonnay lets you in on the secret of the Coomsville dirt, this alluvial composite of a once dramatic convulsion that helped to define the neat little acres to which we toast today. Tulocay takes serious pride in its production, leaving its website for the fun of it.

Visit the Website