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Sodaro Estate Wines: beautiful boutique Cabernet blends from Napa’s newest Coombsville Appellation

Sunday, October 19, 2014
Take note everyone: the newest Napa Valley appellation, Coombsville, is quickly becoming famous for turning out rich, beautiful Bordeaux blends, and Sodaro Estate Winery is on the list of Coombsville wineries to keep your eye on! In pursuit of creating a wine that goes beyond the bounds of its making to become an experience of perfect harmony, Sodaro is on it’s way to realizing the winemaking ideal, and critics are taking note.  

We visited Sodaro the same weekend we were heading to Yountville for dinner at The French Laundry and were already in a festive mood in anticipation.  We selected Sodaro as the winery to visit before a rarefied dinner as it had been recommended to me as a highly personalized wine-tasting experience for serious wine enthusiasts in a beautiful setting.  As we drove east of downtown Napa towards Sodaro, then entered the long driveway, leading past horse corrals on the right, oak trees providing shade overhead and beautifully manicured gardens flanking the driveway up to a beautiful villa, we could easily have been in Tuscany.  Our guide, Andrew McUsic, greeted us warmly and lead us to a breathtaking vista overlooking the property. Surrounded by terra cotta urns and overlooking rolling hills of terraced estate vineyards, we were briefly transported to Italy’s wine regions.

Sodaro grows all of its grapes on it’s beautiful estate, consisting of roughly 9.5 acres planted with slightly more than 13,000 vines of the Bordeaux varietals; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  The topography is varied with north, south and west facing hillsides; vineyard rows are oriented to take advantage of the sun with the ultimate goal in each vintage is to maximize even ripening of the fruit. The perfectly ripened grapes are just one of the ways they ensure only the highest quality fruit is produced for their wines and they only use this fruit - no grapes are purchased or sold in the winemaking process.  

Let’s talk about Coombsville. Generally, Coombsville soil is very acidic and low in organic materials. Before the Sodaro’s planted their vineyards, soil tests revealed where and what amendments would be necessary. Ongoing applications of compost, beneficial microbes and a cover-crop regimen are designed to improve the quality of the soil and keep it healthy and productive. The viticultural philosophy is that of sustainable farming practices that emphasize soil health over chemicals.  Don and Deedee Sodaro searched widely for the perfect location to build a vineyard and create a wine of extraordinary merit. They consulted with experts on every aspect of soil, exposure, rootstock and clone, and selected the Sodaro site which formerly held only a run-down house and a defunct chardonnay vineyard. The Sodaros envisioned the place it is today, erecting a beautiful Italian Villa-style home, planting and replanting vineyards and building the underground winery cave to accommodate barrel aging and a tasting room.

A vision for transformation and growth is characteristic of the Sodaros. Don Sodaro created Sixpence Inns of America hotel chain in 1969, which expanded to six states and was eventually sold to its rival, Motel 6. Sodaro then joined the corporation’s board of directors and until 1991 when he founded Hanford Hotels, where he still currently serves as CEO.  Don also had wine in his family’s heritage; his great grandfather, Giuseppe Sodaro, was a barrel maker in Sicily until a terrible drought in Italy destroyed his crops spurring his move to the US.  The villa that the Sodaro’s built on the Estate is their personal home and pays homage to this family heritage.

Winemakers Dawnine and Bill Dyer were enlisted early in the planning process and helped design the construction of the winery so it would be perfectly suited to the needs of the winegrowing estate. They built a breathtaking dual-chamber winery cave built into the hillside above the vineyards where small tanks allow very small lots to ferment separately to preserve the individual wine qualities during blending. There are two tunnels - one used during the fermentation process, the other used for barrel aging with a small area set aside for wine tasting, which is where Andrew took us for a tasting. The table in the cave was beautifully set, wines decanted and ready for us to taste.  We tasted the Estate wine blends one after the other and each was fantastic.  All wines we tasted (with the exception of a Petit Verdot) were a Bordeaux Blend. We tasted through different vintages and through their two labels; the Felicity line, named for Don’s wife, and their higher end Sodaro reserve wines which source from the best vineyard blocks.  Each bottle was unique flavor and profile and each promises to become more beautiful with another decade of age.

The Sodaro bottle is sleek black with gold name emblazoned across the front in a sexy font, and the wines match this polish.  For Napa wines of their caliber, what surprised me more was that they were actually offered at reasonable prices (you can purchase the Felicity brand for $60 per bottle). For a limited production, boutique wine, their quality to price ratio is among the best values you can hope to find in Napa Valley.  The Sodaro’s focus completely on the quality of their wines, from selecting the perfect estate to finding the best staff and winemakers, to using only the most perfect fruit.  They have no plans to expand production, only to continue to perfect their wines so they become more and more sought after as the quality is further enhanced. They have no need to make vast amounts of profit on their winery and have a very limited distribution. Most of the wine goes to their wine club and it is distributed to only a few restaurants (such as Cole’s, Press and Auberge in Napa, and some LA venues).  What’s next for Sodaro? Stay tuned for their big release of the 2013 Estate Cab which will be offered in 2016 and likely celebrated with a special event at the property.  Until then, call ahead to schedule a private tasting at the Estate. It’s a rarefied experience that will make you feel welcome.  

Tasting Notes below:

2010 Sodaro Estate Blend:
This deep opulent wine is full of rich texture offering dark, supple notes of ripe blackberry and black currant with hints of violets, clove and sweet tobacco. The Estate Blend is crafted each year from Sodaro estate vineyard’s finest lots, blended to perfection and aged 22 months in French Oak.

2009 - Sodaro Estate Blend:
This Bordeaux-style blend shows the promise of the Coombsville area. It’s rich in chocolate, blackberry jam and toasty oak, wrapped into layers of insanely smooth, refined tannins. Really shows off the modern style of Napa Cabernet in a decadent way. Should develop well in the bottle for at least a decade.

2008 - Sodaro Estate Blend:
From black currants and briar to loamy earth and new leather, there is plenty of Cabernet sweep and complexity to this deep and fully stuffed opus. There is also more than a delicate touch of sweet oak, and the wine joins with those that make no disavowals of ripeness. It is withal a big, fairly plush and very showy Cabernet, and it has the depth, definition and balance to age famously for a decade or more.

2010 Felicity Sodaro:

This wine beautifully expresses the complexity and character of the estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has characteristics of dark, ripe fruit offering bright cherry and blackberry qualities with hints of cedar and sandalwood with a complex structure and flawless balance.  Crafted from Sodaro estate-grown fruit and aged 22 months in French Oak.


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