Coombsville Comes of Age

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John Caldwell, Caldwell Vineyard

Caldwell is a legend in Coombsville, both for his history and unique style. He’d owned a string of shoe stores before buying 54 acres of rolling pasture land in the southern Vacas in 1974.

“It was cheap,” he says with a grin—only $1,000/acre.

He had intended to subdivide it and sell, but zoning revisions foiled that plan.

“So I started planting [grapes],” he says.

The county’s agricultural commissioner advised him to plant Chardonnay. “But I did two years of heat summations,” Caldwell says, “and found out we were warmer than Bordeaux. So, from 1983 on, we planted reds.”

Jayson Pahlmeyer made the Caldwell name famous.

“He put me on the label,” Caldwell says. “It gave Jayson a legitimate vineyard [designation], and it legitimized my brand.”

Caldwell’s first commercial release was in 1998. Today, the vineyard has 65 acres planted to eight red varieties. About 40 percent of the fruit goes into Caldwell wines, while the rest is sold, mainly to smaller vintners.

What makes his fruit special, he believes, is hang time.

“We normally don’t finish [picking] until early November,” Caldwell says. “But we maintain structure and acidity because it’s so cool.”


95 Caldwell 2010 Gold Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). Big, rich, vital and dramatic are only some of the words that describe this 100% Cabernet, grown on the low-yielding estate vineyard in Coombsville. It’s lush in black currants yet bracing in tannins, with a minerality that makes it feel firm and grounded. The barrels are 100% new French oak, but the wine never tastes oaky. Instead, the wood adds a savory level of char and vanilla. This is clearly a wine to cellar for a long time. Start enjoying it in 2018, and it’s likely to continue to develop bottle complexity throughout the 2020s. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.4%      Price: $165

92 Caldwell 2011 Silver (Napa Valley). Caldwell managed to wrest plenty of blackberry and cherry fruit from this Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend, even though the vintage was a tough one. The wine, which was aged in 80% new French oak, is elaborately opulent, but the tannins are strong, giving the mouthfeel a locked-down astringency. No reason it shouldn’t age well. Your window of drinking begins in 2019. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.2%      Price: $120

92 Caldwell 2011 Right Bank (Napa Valley). Amazingly lush and delicious in blackberry and cherry pie, mocha and sweet new oak flavors, this blend is so tannic that it’s nearly undrinkable at this time. You definitely want to give it at least eight years in the bottle. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.2%      Price: $90

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Coombsville Comes of Age

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