Uh oh. We’d sold out. It was two hours into our big pre-sell tasting of Copain Wines at Vintology Wine & Spirits back in April, and the popular and delicious “Tous Ensemble” Pinot Noir was done. And our customers wanted more. My curiosity was piqued… I just had to visit Copain.
A few months later, I’m pulling off Eastside Road in bucolic Healdsburg, California onto Copain’s long vineyard flanked driveway. I just returned from a comprehensive Washington-Oregon-California tasting trip, and after all the enthusiasm at April’s event, Copain was a priority. Jeff Connelly of Copain met us, and I knew we were in good hands… Jeff has been to well over 400 tasting rooms in his career. He led us next to the hilltop winery to an outdoor tasting patio overlooking the Russian River Valley and surrounding vineyards. I’m thinking, do I have to ever leave this patio?
Only hearing Jeff share of Copain’s unique approach distracted us from the view. Copain is about the light touch, surely inspired by French winemaking. It makes perfect sense… before co-founder and winemaker Wells Guthrie started Copain in 1999, he apprenticed for legendary Rhone winemaker Michel Chapoutier, squeezing in time to also learn from another great Christophe Romier. This gave Wells a nuanced European sensibility, a sensibility that would take a bit of time to express itself fully back in Sonoma County.
After returning to the states, he first spent time with Helen Turley at Martinelli Winery, a producer synonymous with big-bold-ripe! This led to Wells initially making fruit bomb wines, but in time returned to that European sensibility and his French background, preferring a lighter-bodied, lower alcohol, more nuanced palate. As Jeff started to pour us the acclaimed Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Syrahs, this palate was clear.
Stylistically, Wells’ wines are very different from many Sonoma and certainly Napa bottles, a fact which ultimately earned Copain membership in the In Pursuit of Balance association. In Pursuit of Balance is an influential nonprofit association of wineries created to draw attention to producers who aren’t making wines just to obtain high media ratings. Balanced wines are often ignored by wine media for full throttle, high alcohol wines. Though the association is finalizing its operations at the end of the year, it brought well earned attention to lower-alcohol, higher-acid, balanced wines and includes some of California’s greatest like Mount Eden Vineyards, Calera, Hanzell… and Copain.
Shyness gets you nowhere during a wine visit, so when Jeff casually mentioned Copain had a Trousseau, I had ask to taste it. This Trousseau was a great example of Wells’ winemaking style and the achievement of balance. Trousseau is a native grape variety of Jura, and has almost no presence in California. Copain planted heritage clones and the results are awesome! In the warm Sonoma afternoon, this red was soft with fine tannins, a refreshing gentle acidity, with these beautiful tea, berry and herbal elements. Again, do I ever have to leave this patio?
On a table strewn with Burgundy wine glasses, charcuterie and Sonoma area vineyard maps, Jeff tasted us on many of Copain’s single vineyard bottles. Copain sources the majority of its fruit from carefully selected sustainably-farmed sites. From the excitement at the April Vintology event, I fondly remembered the Brousseau Chardonnay, Monument Tree Pinot Noir and the delicate Hawks Butte Syrah. Tasting again, with a deeper understanding of Wells Guthrie and looking out onto the Russian River Valley… it surpassed the hype.
Now back in New York, I see Copain “Tous Ensemble” Chardonnay 2014 on Vintology’s shelf, seducing me. “Tous Ensemble” suggests all together, speaking both to the blend of select vineyards, and to the European sensibility of gathering with friends. I think I’ll bring a bottle home tonight, sip, and think of that hilltop view.
A special thanks to Copain Wines and Jeff Connelly for a great visit!
Copain Wines and more are available at Vintology Wine & Spirits at www.vintology.com.
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*Reposted with permission from Girl Meets Vine. http://elizabethmillerwine.com/girlmeetsvine