Look Who’s Talking

AN ANCIENT CALDERA, volcanic soils, cooling bay fog…these are elements that can render a wine region like Coombsville unique. But to state the obvious, wine doesn’t make itself. It takes the hand of a master to wield those elements, to coax the best possible wine from that place and time.

On a Saturday night last April, a small group of such seasoned winemakers flanked a table tucked between rows of barrels in an old stone cellar (“1886” is carved over the door) near our Faust Vineyard. Their names might have been a cut-andpaste operation from a who’s who roster of Napa Valley talent. Hosting the gathering was Andy Erickson, whose résumé includes Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, and Dalla Valle.

It was his cellar and his Favia wines in the barrels. Joining the group was the legendary Paul Hobbs, so captivated by this pocket of an AVA east of the town of Napa that he purchased a large vineyard in Coombsville and gave it the name of the town’s founder, Nathan Coombs. Craftsman three: Guillaume Boudet, associate winemaker for Hyde de Villaine, a partnership between Napa’s Hyde family and the de Villaine family of Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti fame. And, finally, our own team, estate director Jennifer Beloz and winemaker David Jelinek, who have been making wine together in Coombsville for over a decade.

Their mission that night was to taste each other’s Cabernet Sauvignons— turn taste buds into microscopes—to determine whether there is indeed a remarkable character, a through line, replicated across Coombsville, the newest of Napa’s AVAs. The commentator in chief for the tasting commanded another notable set of taste buds: global critic James Suckling.

“What I find so attractive about Cabernet based wines here is that they show that herbaceous quality that is Cabernet’s real character.”
—James Suckling

“That’s how we see Cabernet Sauvignon [at Hyde de Villaine]. We allow a little bit of the green freshness. In Bordeaux, this is what Cabernet tastes like when it’s at just the right ripeness.
—Guillaume Boudet
“I believe Coombsville, as a Napa Valley appellation, has the tightest DNA fingerprint of all Cabernets made. There’s purity and intensity, graphite and minerality, and then that freshness and acidity—I think that is a thread that runs through absolutely every single Cabernet, despite winemaker preference. That duality of richness and freshness speaks to the vibrancy of this place.” —Jennifer Beloz
“The wines have a blue-fruit character, with currants, graphite, lead pencil—the influence of the bay. It plays into what I call the ‘new classical’ Napa wines, where winemakers are picking at the right times, de-emphasizing alcohol, and not, let’s say, ‘stylizing’ their wines. That’s what makes Coombsville so amazing—the natural freshness and brightness and that incredible blue character.” —James Suckling
“Coombsville’s igneous, volcanic rock is porous, and the roots get deep down into that and pull up a kind of energy I can’t even describe. But I can tell you, from all the work I’ve done up-valley in various vineyards, this fruit comes in the best balanced of all.” —Paul Hobbs
Back to Pact Journal | Volume III | Spring 2023