COHO Wines was founded by Gary Lipp and Brooks Painter both of whom are Napa wine industry veterans. Brooks was the founding winemaker and made all vintages until 2014, when he sold his share of the business and is no longer involved with COHO. Gary handles the business side of the operations. Gary has been involved with Napa winemaking since the early 1980’s and over the years, has built a formidable resume in the wine business. He began his career working in the cellar at Heitz Cellars and then moved on to Robert Mondavi Winery where his career path moved out of the cellar and into sales (he was Mondavi’s first Export Manager and lived in London for 5 years).
Brooks has made wine for over 30 years and is currently the director of wine making at both V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa. He’s a busy guy as both these wineries are well visited and have decent sized productions. He has also worked at Robert Mondavi and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Today, long time Napa veteran, Phillip Corallo-Titus oversees the winemaking for COHO.
COHO’s specialty is cool weather vineyards and as a result they source fruit from Carneros and parts of the Coombsville area just east of the town of Napa as well as the Russian River area in neighboring Sonoma County. They find their inspiration from old world wines, namely wines coming from often cooler regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Alsace in France.
You may be wondering about COHO as a name, as it might appear COHO would be the initials of the owners names however in this case it is refreshingly a tribute to a species of Salmon (often referred to as ‘silvers’ by fisherman). You will see this Salmon theme carried out throughout their labels and marketing materials. This name stems from a Celtic legend regarding the first person to catch and eat salmon and from that meal poetry was born. It is also a poignant tribute to the difficult journey the spawning salmon make and how winemakers in their own way must farm sustainably.
Speaking of difficult journeys, their first vintages were all but destroyed in the now infamous wine warehouse fire & disaster in Vallejo in 2005. A number of wineries were affected by this fire, but its most difficult on a new winery just out of the gate, trying to make a name for themselves. We’ve visited several Napa wineries that were “new” during the time of this warehouse fire; they all lost their entire supply of wine but somehow bounced back. One vintner even made Marinade out of her boiled wine. 2002 was COHO’s first release.
We tried their Headwaters 2005 Merlot. This is chiefly sourced from the Michael Black Vineyard in the Coombsville area (named after the viticulturist and vineyard owner). This is an unbelievably rocky vineyard with large boulders sitting right among the vineyards (poses problems for tractors). However, one puts up with these large rocks when the quality of fruit is top notch. This is a rich Merlot, with great color and a velvety mouth feel. Baking spices on the finish include hints of Cinnamon. COHO has made wine from this vineyard for a number of years and continues to each vintage.
The 2005 Summit Vine Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon is still a young wine however it is full bodied, with a healthy tannin structure anchoring the finish. Grapes for this wine are from a hillside vineyard located at about 1800 feet in the Diamond Mountain appellation. COHO tends to lock up vineyard contracts so that each year they can continue to use these vineyards – and most variations in the wine would be due to the vintage rather than the vineyard. COHO also makes excellent Pinot Noir from both Sonoma and Napa. Visit: www.cohowines.com
Note: This review has been identified as needing an update. We heard that COHO may be a part of the new Feast it Forward wine collective that is currently being built across from the Oxbow Public Market in the city of Napa. We will update this review once we have more details.