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March 15, 2019
Rombauer Vineyards: Deep Napa Valley Roots
Following a thirty year career as a military and commercial pilot, Koerner Rombauer and his wife Joan began their search down the California coast, looking for a small-town, agricultural environment to move their family. When they eventually found their way to the hillside community of St. Helena in 1972, they arrived to a Napa Valley that was on the cusp of a monumental transition in modern day winemaking; four years before the notorious Judgement of Paris, and two more behind the founding of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Napa’s wine industry was already developing - not only in growing numbers, but in viticulture practices and cellar techniques, including the arrival of French oak and the first single vineyard designated wines. Local wineries were unknowingly gearing up for what would be a radical shift in the region’s international accolade, and the Rombauers arrived more than ready to try their luck.
After moving to Napa, Koerner and Joan quickly made friends with the local wine community. Looking to learn more about the business of growing grapes, the new Californian couple became partners with the Conn Creek Winery in 1976, soon applying this newfound knowledge to their own project in 1980. The grapes of Rombauer’s inaugural vintage were sourced from Stag’s Leap Wine cellars, where Joan would eventually become the National Sales Director, and made in both the cellars of Shafer Vineyards and Koerner’s own garage.
This collaborative story of Rombauer Vineyard’s first vintage remained an important principle within the winery’s future. As Koerner and Joan’s own brand grew during the 1980s, they did so alongside the greater Napa Valley winemaking community. When the Rombauer’s broke ground for their own winery in 1982, they built for a capacity of 50,000 cases, tenfold of their own production at the time. Over the following decades, their winery served as an incubator for local, up-and-coming Napa Valley winemakers including Duckhorn, Solitude, Etude and Opus.
Over the next few decades, Rombauer continued to grow, eventually becoming the pillar in Napa Valley luxury wine that we know the brand as today. During the 1990s, Rombauer made its way to the short lists of superior wines with their Chardonnay leading the way. Following the untimely death of Joan in 2002, and Koerner this past May (2018), Rombauer has remained a multi-generation, family owned winery.
In the past decade, Rombauer Vineyards has found themselves again at the forefront of the California wine industry, this time through their large investment in cutting edge sustainable practices. All cardboard, plastic and glass is recycled, and all green waste generated from the vineyards and winery is composted and used as a natural fertilizer, returning essential nutrients to the soils. 70% of the estate’s energy is provided by solar power, and water monitoring technology, including neutron probes and double dripper irrigation lines, have proven successful in decreasing water use and increasing efficiency.
When asked about his seemingly disparate careers in flying airplanes and growing grapes, Koerner articulated a metaphorical connection between the two, saying;
“Flying and winemaking are both mystical, magical things. The magic of flying is that it allows you to leave behind all that binds you to the earth. The magic of winemaking is that you create something with your own hands, from your own piece of earth, that lasts for years. If you turn out a wine that can score the highest points, or highest bid, it’s like breaking out at minimums, right over the runway numbers, knowing you’ve nailed the approach.”
More from Rombauer:
Rombauer Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay, Carneros (1.5 L, 375 ML available)
Rombauer Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
Rombauer Vineyards 2014 ‘Diamond Selection’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Rombauer Vineyards 2015 ‘Diamond Selection’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Rombauer Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Rombauer Vineyards 2016 Merlot, Napa Valley
Rombauer Vineyards 2017 Zinfandel (375 ML available)