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New Wines, New Faces: Richard Perry Helps Put Coombsville on the Map for Napa Cabernet

Tim Fish
Posted: May 25, 2001

If you collect Napa Valley Cabernet, then Howell Mountain, Oakville and Rutherford are appellations you know well. Coombsville may not be joining that pedigreed list just yet, but Richard Perry is one of a growing number of vintners who believe they can make top Cabernets in the region, a pocket of green east of the city of Napa.

As an indicator of Coombsville's potential, Perry's debut release, the Richard Perry Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 (90 points, $40, 400 cases), weaves together a pretty array of ripe plum, currant and mocha-flavored oak, finishing with polished tannins. The recent 1998 release (92 points, $45, 500 cases) is even more focused and complex, with rich and supple flavors of currant, mocha and coffee, wrapped in firm tannins.

When Perry, 59, and his wife, Sheila, 52, bought their ranch in 1979, it was nothing but scrub oak and coyotes on the benchland of Mount George. The Perrys, who are hands-on types, built their own house and took part in planting the vineyards; Perry even bought a small bulldozer and terraced one vineyard himself.

"I began drinking wine back in the '60s, and I felt drawn to this industry," says Perry, who until four years ago worked a day job as a management consultant for the dental industry. When many of his clients became more interested in talking about wine than about dentistry, Perry knew it was time to get serious about wine.

The Perrys' first vineyard was planted in 1988, with guidance from their neighbor John Caldwell, a grower who supplies grapes to Joseph Phelps, Viader and Merryvale, among others. (Other wineries turning to Coombsville grape sources include the new Nickel & Nickel line of single-vineyard wines and tiny Cabernet producer Merus, as well Franciscan Estates, which bought a 160-acre site in the area in 1999 to plant Cabernet and Merlot.)

Today, the Perrys have about 15 acres of vines, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Viognier. Until recently, they sold the Cabernet to Stags' Leap Winery, Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards, and others. With the '97 vintage, the Perrys decided it was time to make their own wine. "Everyone else was getting the accolades," says Perry.

Winemaker Gregory Graham made the '97 Cabernet and harvested the '98. (He still buys Viognier and Syrah from the Perrys for his Gregory Graham label.) Now, Ken Bernards of Ancien Wines is making the wine for the Perrys, at Larkmead Winery near St. Helena. Next year, the Perrys will release a 2000 Syrah, which will bring their total annual production to just under 1,000 cases.

"The soils are fabulous," Bernards says of the Perry ranch. "They're well-drained, with a lot of volcanic ash, and in one section there's this rocky red soil. It's a relatively cool location. It faces southwest for the most part and is usually above the fog, so it gets great exposure."

Rather than mold the wine to a particular style, Perry says the vineyard told him how to make the wine. "We found our wines were very subtle, complex and approachable very early, not big tannic Cabernets," he says.

Although Perry admits he's pleased with the reception of his wine, he seems happiest when he's in the vineyard with the grapes. "My grandfather was a farmer," Perry says. "He would be pleased that someone in the family had his hands in the dirt."

Richard Perry Wines
Address: 1187 Green Valley Road, Napa, CA 94558
Telephone: (707) 257-0896
Web site: www.perryvineyards.com (under construction)
E-mail: perryvines@aol.com

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Learn more about Napa Valley appellations:

  • Feb. 29, 2000
    Rethinking Napa Valley

    Read past New Wines, New Faces:

  • May 11, 2001
    Napa Valley Cabernet By Way Of Persia

  • April 20, 2001
    Helen Turley's New Napa Cabernet

  • April 6, 2001
    Downtown Napa's Vin de Garage
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