According to my French-English translation widget, "copain" means "buddy." Sample sentence: "Hey, buddy, what's 'sous bois' mean?" True, Copain's tasting notes are liberally peppered with choice Gallic gems like "pain epice" and "sous bois" when "forest floor" would illustrate the thought with a nod to provincialists—not that the makers of these French varietal grapes aren't following precedent. The French may not have invented wine, but they did give it élevage. Hey, what are widgets for?
Wells Guthrie earned his bona fides laboring two years in the employ of M. Chapoutier, a major producer in the northern Rhône River Valley. He returned to Sonoma County with a passion for Syrah in particular, and low-alcohol, food-friendly continental style wines in general, and cofounded Copain (pronounced "co-pawn") Wine Cellars and custom crush in a Santa Rosa warehouse. Favorable reception of Copain's product has led to the establishment of a new facility on Eastside Road. Hidden from the road, up a gravel drive, the California barn-style winery features a cool, dark and spacious tasting room styled rustically with recycled barnwood paneling and concrete floor. The bar fronts double doors looking into the tank room, while windows provide a panoramic view of the Russian River Valley.
With faint wisps of toast and brown spice, the 2007 Tous Ensemble Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($30) seemed typical of Copain wine's gentle oak treatment. The appealing red licorice and cherry-raspberry aromas lurk in a sultry zone a full level below jammy. Black cherry and dark plum flavors bide their time in Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend 2005 Les Copains Paso Robles ($40), under layers of iron and shale with obvious potential rewards after decanting or cellaring. The opaque 2006 Tous Ensemble Mendocino County Syrah ($20) had the grapey, purple marker hallmarks of a young, intense Syrah needing time, while warm ginger cake flavors provide more immediate gratification. The 2006 Les Voisin McDowell Valley Syrah ($35), with roasted nuts and cherry-berry notes, was made more approachable with the addition of 25 percent Grenache.
The 2007 Hacienda Secoya Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($47)—hey, hold on a minute, buddy. Where's the Sonoma County wine? Turns out, Copain sources exclusively from select Central Coast and Mendocino County vineyards. The Pinot Noir that is planted around the new winery? Sold to Kosta Browne.
I can imagine it now: the arch-vigneron retreats to his hidden lair with the treasure of faraway appellations. Cut to a mob of angry villagers, storming the chateau, brandishing pitchforks, demanding to know why.
According to my host, Guthrie is a total terroir geek and would be only too happy to explain. Anyway, after arriving at the end of the menu, the subtle charms of these wines had a mellowing effect—enough to cause this surly provincial to put down the pitchfork.
Copain Wine Cellars, 7800 Eastside Road, Healdsburg. Open Thursday–Sunday 11am–5pm, Tuesday–Wednesday by appointment. 707.836.8822.