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Wine is a product of nature. But nature is rarely under its very best conditions. Most of the time very good wine is the product of nature being gently guided by the hand and wisdom of man. Guiding the land through its cycles from dormant vines in winter sleep, through the growing season, the wine making, aging, and finally bringing the finished wine to the table. The balance between the product of nature and the guiding of the hand of man is the essence of the finest of wines and the philosophy at Rombauer Vineyards.
If you know nothing else about Rombauer Vineyards, know this: The company is all about family and “The Joy of Wine” (it’s even emblazoned on the corks). The genesis of the notion came from Koerner Rombauer’s great aunt Irma Rombauer, the original author of the seminal cookbook, The Joy of Cooking. Following Aunt Irma’s lead, Koerner approaches life with an equally joyous attitude, from motoring about in one of his vintage automobiles and piloting his Cessna jet to the flavour-packed Napa Valley wines he and winemaker Richie Allen fashion each fall. The entire family works closely together, on a day-to-day basis, to craft ultra-premium varietal wines from California’s best grape-growing regions.
Koerner Rombauer was born and raised in Southern California, in the small, agricultural town of Escondido near San Diego. He attended public schools in Escondido and went to the same high school as Joan Ransome, who would later (in 1959) become his wife. Koerner’s first great career passion was flying; he began with the California Air National Guard in 1956.
Upon leaving the service in 1965, Koerner became a commercial pilot with Braniff International. He and the family, including two children by then, moved to Dallas, Texas. Koerner flew as a captain on Braniff’s South American route.
In 1972, the Rombauer’s moved their family, two horses, and five dogs to the Napa Valley. They chose the area because it reminded them of the small-town, agricultural environment in which they had been raised and it appeared to be a clean, safe place to raise children. They purchased 20 acres of beautiful hilltop land on the Silverado Trail, near the town of St. Helena.
“The vineyards make the wine. I like to keep individual lots separate as long as possible so that their distinctive character can develop. I like each wine to follow its own pattern, rather than trying to force it into some preconceived pattern. The real artistic challenge is in blending these small, barrel-aged lots, and producing the best possible outcome for each vintage. I like to bring the growers in to taste with us, to see what everybody’s contributing to the final blend, and ask a lot of ‘What if?’ questions. All that feedback really helps.” – Richie Allen, Winemaker
When the Rombauer’s moved to Napa Valley they had no intention of starting a winery. They did, however, have a great appreciation for the role of wine in the fine dining experience. It didn’t take long in their new surroundings before they became fascinated with the wine industry and, in 1976, they became partners in Conn Creek Winery.
Although the first harvest was in 1980, the wines for that vintage were crafted at Shafer Vineyards in Yountville. Rombauer Vineyards was officially founded in 1982 by Koerner and Joan Rombauer. The winery features caves that extend for over a mile into the hillside. The caves provide a constant temperature and humidity that result in optimum conditions for aging the wines.
Rombauer wines are consistently ranked high in the wine trade journals. Many of the finest restaurants throughout the country include Rombauer wines on their list and feature them by the glass. The joy of wine is something that’s important to Rombauer. Whether you are a collector of fine wines or like to have wine with food, wine is something that truly should be enjoyed. Rombauer Vineyards puts a lot of hard work and tender care into making fine wines. And because wine is a simple product to enjoy, emphasis is given to taking the mystique out of enjoying fine wines.
The emphasis on the joy of wine comes from the heritage of the Rombauer family. Koerner’s ancestors made wine in the famous Reingau region in Germany and as mentioned earlier, his great aunt, Irma Rombauer, wrote the book The Joy of Cooking. Hence the focus on wine as complements to good food and good friends. Every family member is actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the winery from selecting grapes for the winemaking process and getting the wine to market.
The Rombauers produce several varietal wines, such as Carneros Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Estate Grown Zinfandel from the vineyard below the winery, and a blended reserve wine called Le Meilleur Du Chai, which means the Best of the Cellar. At Rombauer Vineyards, they take the time to hand craft and nurture their wines. Season after season, year after year. They’re pleased to say the fruits of their labor have paid off. At wine competitions and where it counts – in every glass.
Mrs. Rombauer passed away in December 2002, but left a legacy of two children, five grandchildren, and the winery.
Richie Allen joined Rombauer Vineyards in 2004 as an intern. The winemaking team liked him so much that they offered him full-time employment as Enologist. He became the Assistant Winemaker in 2005, then Winemaker in 2008. Prior to working at Rombauer Vineyards, Richie worked at Penfolds and Oakridge in Australia as well as in New Zealand at Church Road in Hawkes’ Bay and Vavasour in the Marlborough region.
“The vineyards make the wine. I like to keep individual lots separate as long as possible so that their distinctive character can develop. I like each wine to follow its own pattern, rather than trying to force it into some preconceived pattern. The real artistic challenge is in blending these small, barrel-aged lots, and producing the best possible outcome for each vintage. I like to bring the growers in to taste with us, to see what everybody’s contributing to the final blend, and ask a lot of ‘What if?’ questions. All that feedback really helps.” – Richie Allen
HOME: 7 acres, Zinfandel (Joan’s Vineyard)
ATLAS PEAK: 20 acres, Cabernet Sauvignon
CARNEROS: 210 acres, 200 acres Chardonnay and 10 acres Merlot
HACKETT (Stags Leap District): 5 acres, Cabernet Sauvignon
HIGH RANCH (Calistoga): 40 acres, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon
STICE LANE (St. Helena): 30 acres, Cabernet Sauvignon