By: Sarah Covey | K&L Staff Member
A recent trip to Sonoma with Bryan Brick, Jim Boyce, and Kyle Kurani means many fun and educational Road Trip reports! I have a few stories to tell, and you will see my stories interspersed with Jim and Kyle's stories here for a while to come. As I put it in my thank you email to the people within K&L who made our trip possible: "The trip to Sonoma helped me personally to have a true understanding of the passion of the winemakers we visited as they spoke about what they do, to stand on the soil where their grapes are grown and to be able to see what they see in their visions for the future of their businesses. These kind of trips put faces on the bottles on our shelves, and help us develop a holistic understanding about the business we are in." We hope you enjoy reading our stories as much as we enjoyed creating them. Cheers!
Copain Winery, Healdsburg
Copain Winery was founded in the hills of the Russian River Valley in 1999 by Wells Guthrie. Tucked away atop a quiet hillside with a spectacular view, one feels an immediate sense of calm upon entering the property. Sitting on the terrace overlooking the valley on that warm summer morning, we were treated to a lovely tasting of Copain’s full portfolio, accompanied by delicious French and Italian cheeses.
First, some history: Mr. Guthrie worked as the Tastings Coordinator for Wine Spectator magazine for many years, and during his tenure there, he fell deeply in love with the wines of France- most specifically, the wines of the Rhône Valley. He decided to move to France to learn the art of winemaking from the people whose wines had inspired him. He worked as an apprentice to the famed winemaker Michel Chapoutier for two years, and was impressed not only by his experience with Chapoutier, but also by the general European attitude that wine is an essential part of life. He returned to California and apprenticed with other famous winemakers in Napa Valley before starting a winery which would reflect this same philosophy.
Wells Guthrie started his winery with an old friend, naming the winery Copain, which means “friend” in French, in tribute to their friendship. He chose to focus on pinot noir and chardonnay, and with his background in the Rhône, syrah also made perfect sense. Originally, Copain’s wines had much bigger fruit, but as time went on, Guthrie realized that the wines he was drinking at home- older French wines, lower in alcohol and higher in acidity- were the kinds of wines he wanted to produce for his clientele. Through the courageous act of changing his style to reflect this need, Copain has become even more successful than before. Sourcing fruit from a variety of vineyards, he worked with the landowners to plant the vines as he directed, and also dictated specific vineyard practices he wanted them to implement to get the results he was looking for, guaranteeing them that in return he would purchase all of the grapes if they did so. This practice continues today, Guthrie is able to create wines that show a distinct expression of the vineyard sites from which they come.
Our tasting was hosted by Ezra Chomak, Copain’s gracious tasting room manager. We had the good fortune to try the full portfolio of Copain’s current offerings, which was a treat as we have just a few of the wines here at the store. We started with a couple of lovely 2010 Chardonnays, one from Anderson Valley AVA from the “Tous Ensemble” vineyard and another from the Brousseau vineyard in the Chalone AVA. The “Tous Ensemble” was all stainless steel with 10 months on the lees and no malo. It showed apple, pear, honeysuckle and brioche with a soft sweetness and medium acid. The Brousseau came from a 40 year old parcel with limestone and granite soil. It saw neutral oak for fermentation and ageing; its’ profile was of apple, bright pear, white flowers, butter, vanilla and toast. Combined with the brie on the plate in front of me, I could have been very happy to stop the day right there and just stay on that patio for the rest of our trip! Up next was a wacky, deliciously lip-smacking 2009 wine called “P2” from the Hein vineyard in Anderson Valley. It was 50% pinot noir and 50% pinot gris- a departure for Copain’s traditional Burgundian style. Cherry, smoke, earth, game, mineral, citrus, floral and somewhat ethereal, it was fresh, crisp, and had juicy acid. Incredibly food-friendly, quaffable and would be delicious with a slight chill on it.
Following these wines we tasted of a couple of Copain’s wines that we carry here at K&L, which was great for us to experience sitting on the terrace of the winery. First, the 2009 “Tous Ensemble” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. This wine, translated from the French as “all together” is a blend from several vineyard sites within the southern part of Anderson Valley. Red cherry, spice, mineral, earth, some game, raspberry, hints of smoke. Medium plus acid and medium plus but fine tannins. Delicious! It appears that the 2009 is sold out, but the 2010 "Tous Ensemble" is here! Next was the 2009 “Les Voisins” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, a wine which we sell out of almost immediately upon receiving it! “Les Voisins” means “the neighbors”, so logically these 3 vineyards are literally next door neighbors to one another. The vineyards are about 10 miles from the coast, in the Northwest corner of Anderson Valley, and as such, the sites are considerably cooler. Appropriately, the wine showed those cooler climate characteristics- red cherry, mineral, soft smoke, game, spice, strawberry, rose. It had medium plus acid, medium plus tannin, and was well-balanced and elegant.
Up next were a couple of wines from the Kiser vineyard sites. First was the 2009 “En Haut” (meaning above) Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and then the 2009 “En Bas” (meaning below) Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Differences in the vineyard sites include: 1) the elevation- En Haut is at 800 feet and En Bas is at 650 feet and 2) the soils- En Haut is compressed sandstone, with almost no clay, while En Bas is clay and crumbly sandstone. Both sites produce distinctly different wines, classically styled, and with great potential to age.
It was Syrah time, which I was admittedly very excited about. We started with a wine we carry- the 2009 “Les Voisins” Yorkville Highlands Syrah. Again, the wine is a blend of grapes from 3 neighboring vineyards, which have schist and granite soils, planted on the sloped mountainside of the rocky Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County, which rise from 600 to 2500 feet in elevation. Guthrie employs whole cluster fermentation for 30% of the wine and does not use new wood for ageing. The wine was full of ripe blackberry, violet, and plum- quite floral for not co-fermenting with viognier, which is traditional in the Rhône for syrah. It also had a savory meaty character classic to Northern Rhône syrah. Amazingly, the wine was only 13.9% alcohol- so well-balanced that it fooled all 4 of us sitting at the table.
We tried two syrahs after that from the Brousseau vineyards in the Chalone AVA- the 2008 Brousseau Chalone Syrah and the 2010 Brousseau Chalone Syrah. The 2008 was blackberry, black plum, licorice, cedar, spice, rose petal, meat and an interesting cherry cola note. Refreshing at only 13.5% abv. The 2010 was much more high-toned, violet, plum, blackberry, black cherry, cassis and white pepper. It surprised us again at 13% abv. I had no idea that syrah could have this much depth and not be ridiculously high in alcohol. Eye-opening!
Ezra poured us a final wine to show us how far Guthrie’s wines had come- the 2009 James Berry Paso Robles Syrah. While loved for the character and expression of syrah from this area, Guthrie is choosing to focus further north in Anderson Valley and the Yorkville Highlands in the future. The James Berry was beautiful. The wine was another 100% syrah, this time from chalky limestone soil, a vineyard which lies 6.7 miles from the coast- so the range of temperatures between day and night is quite great. This means that the fruit gets ripe during the day but holds its acid at night, something very important for syrah. Strawberry, raspberry, cassis, mineral, violet and flowers, it felt much less like a classic syrah, but still very interesting, drinkable and delicious.
It was hard to drag us from the table, as we all wanted to just relax and enjoy a nice lunch, but many appointments beckoned. I have firm resolution to return, next time with a picnic and a loved one.
~Until Next Time,