Italics Winery - It’s true, the winery is new. But the soil is as old as dirt.

It’s true, the winery is new. But the soil is as old as dirt.

Vintners today have all kinds of tools and technologies to shape their wine, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. But the one thing they can’t control is the soil. Soil is what it is and there’s not a helluva lot you can do about it. So what is soil, exactly?

Soils are complex mixtures of minerals, plants, and microorganisms. They are derived from the decomposition of rocks, a process that can take tens or even hundreds of thousands of years.

Here in Coombsville the soils are a result of volcanic eruptions that occurred some three to five million years ago. The rhyolite tuffs and andesite breccias heaved from the earth are the parent material for nearly all of the soils in these parts. These soils, in turn, have undergone uplift, dispersion and erosion over many thousands of years.

The Vaca Mountains, which form the backdrop of Coombsville, were forced up by plate tectonics, taking layers of sediment up with them. When they reached a height they could no longer sustain, the hillsides came crashing down into the flats. This is the land we farm.

If you think of a vineyard as a vessel for extracting flavor from soil, then what you get when you sip a glass of wine is a taste of Earth’s history.

Italics Winery - In 6 knots you can fly a kite. In 12 you can sail a boat. In 20 you can make really good wine.

In 6 knots you can fly a kite. In 12 you can sail a boat.
In 20 you can make really good wine.

The sun gets too much credit for growing wine. Degree-days, heat summation, we get all that. But the sun alone does not define us. Coombsville is perhaps best understood by its proximity to the San Pablo Bay.

The breezes that blow in from the Bay bring fog by day and cool air by night. The morning fog keeps temperatures from running up. And when the fog burns off, the breeze returns just as temperatures are hitting their daytime peak.

For many years the folks at the local agricultural college thought Coombsville was too cool to grow Cabernet. Perhaps that’s because the thermometer doesn’t tell you much about our growing season. It begins weeks earlier than places like Calistoga and runs weeks later, with harvest sometimes slipping into November.

Another thing the thermometer can’t tell you is how Coombsville’s geology affects its climate. Coombsville is surrounded by a partially collapsed caldera, the remnant of a fractured volcanic vent. The caldera’s half-bowl reaches some 1,800 feet in elevation and collects the cool marine air from the Bay. This also contributes to our long, slow growing season.

The net of this is, grapes can hang longer without dehydrating, while retaining their natural acidity. The wine that results is fresh, dark and rich without being over the top.

Italics Winery - Before it was wine country, Coombsville was horse country. Remarkably, it still is.

Before it was wine country, Coombsville was horse country.
Remarkably, it still is.

Coombsville has always been pasture land. Always been a haphazard mosaic of modest houses, small ranches, rolling fields and scattered vineyards. It really didn’t matter what was happening in the rest of Napa, Coombsville never really changed.

What’s happening in Napa, and in fact the entire Bay Area, is the technology boom and all the wealth created by it. Few metropolitan regions can claim the level of affluence that exists between Silicon Valley and Napa Valley. And Napa, with its natural beauty, world-class wines and Michelin-starred restaurants, is a magnet for that wealth. Yet somehow, little of it has ended up in Coombsville.

Coombsville is where families come to live simply. It comprises roughly 11,000 acres, and of that less than 2,000 are under vine. Clearly, raising a cash crop is not as important as raising children. A sentiment that’s echoed on every quiet country lane.

The picture above was taken on our neighbors property. They board a dozen or so horses and take in rescues. We tried to compensate them for letting our photo crew tramp through their corral but they wouldn’t have it. The most they would accept was a case wine . . . and a bushel of carrots.

Italics Winery - The decade-long odyssey that took us to every corner of Napa Valley. And ultimately, to our home.

The decade-long odyssey that took us to every corner of Napa Valley.
And ultimately, to our home.

From the beginning, the idea behind Appellations was to zag when everyone else was zigging. To buck the trend of focusing on ever smaller plots of land and reclaim the greatness of Napa Valley as a whole.

When the brand was conceived, Napa had exactly 13 AVAs. That’s when a couple of friends sat down over margaritas and decided to turn the appellation model on its head.

“You can’t really taste the lines on a map,” said Steve Reynolds, looking back. “We figured, why not take the best parts of the Valley – wherever they may be –and see if the sum is even greater.”

The friends used their connections to wrangle fruit from every AVA – Oakville, Rutherford, St Helena . . . Spring, Diamond and Howell Mountain . . . all 13 appellations. They vinified each lot separately and when they put together the final blend they called the wine THIRTEEN. “It had the structure you find in the hillsides and the acid balance you get from the cooler regions,” recalled Steve. “It was rich on the palate but not at all jammy. We’d found the sweet spot.”

In 2004, a 14th AVA was added (Oak Knoll) and the named changed to FOURTEEN. In 2009, a 15th arrived (Calistoga) and the name changed again. Along the way the wine had created an unlikely following: collectors who regularly paid top dollar for the Valley’s best vineyard-designated wines, but who were savvy enough to understand the benefits of blending.

One of those collectors, Mike Martin, decided this was a brand that deserved a bigger stage. So he bought it. And while searching for a vineyard to represent Napa’s 16th AVA (Coombsville) he found our new estate home, which we call Italics.

Today, the Appellations wines live within the Italics portfolio as an important expression of our mission: to highlight places that truly have something to say. Napa Valley is just such a place, even if it has 16 sub-AVAs nested within it. Appellations is the wine we use to draw your attention to the majesty of Napa Valley as a whole. To italicize it.

Italics Winery - We weren’t the first ones to discover Coombsville. But we may be the last.

We weren’t the first ones to discover Coombsville.
But we may be the last.

The history of grape-growing in Coombsville dates to 1870, when the Carbone family purchased a large parcel on Coombsville Road. They opened a winery which, sadly, no longer exists. And for the next century, not a whole lot happened.

Fast forward a hundred years. It’s 1970 and dozens of wineries are popping up along Highway 29 in Oakville and Rutherford and St. Helena. And Coombsville? Still largely untouched. The problem was, it was considered too cool for growing red grapes. And too un-cool for posh vintners to call home. Except for a handful of pioneers like Caldwell and Farella, Coombsville stayed under the radar for another two decades.

By the 1990s, a number of up-valley wineries, looking to expand their production, came calling in search of additional sources of fruit. They were quick to spot Coombsville’s rolling benchlands which are neither mountainous nor flat but in that sweet spot right between. You may have heard of some of these producers – Phelps, Hobbs, Pahlmeyer, Dunn, Quintessa. The wine press surely has. For many years these folks have been quietly building their brands on Coombsville Cabernet.

As Coombsville’s name and vineyards started appearing on more and more high-end bottles, people started asking questions. The two you hear most often are: Why is this place so special? and Why the hell haven’t I heard of it before?

We’d tell you the answer but then you might want to move here.

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