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Monday, January 30, 2012

01/31/2012 - Food and Wine in Napa Valley's New Sub-Appellation, Coombsville

Tonight's episode of Slow Living Radio celebrates a newly designated Sub-Appellation in the Napa Valley - Coombsville - nestled behind the town of Napa, which itself is seeing a whole new facelift!  We'll meet three vintners who have helped to forge this designation, Clay Gregory of Inherit the Sheep, Lauren Ackerman of Ackerman Family Vineyards and Tom Farella of Farella Vineyard, who co-authored the appellation's AVA petition.

We'll then welcome back the iconic Napa Valley Chef Ken Frank, whose acclaimed restaurant, La Toque in the Westin Verasa, is nestled on the appellation's boundaries, to talk about the appellation from a chef's perspective.  But we couldn't have Ken back on without hearing the path this extraordinary chef has travelled to be where he is now - from dish washing in France at 17 to having the region's most sought after winter truffle menus... and so much more!

“Newly Recognized, But Long Established”

The Family Wineries and Growers of The Coombsville Vintners & Growers Celebrate Napa Valley's Newest Appellation

The Coombsville Vintners & Growers have announced the approval and designation of Napa Valley’s newest sub-appellation, the Coombsville Appellation. The official Coombsville Appellation designation was made official by the United States Department of the Treasury TTB on December 14, 2011, and makes Coombsville the Napa Valley’s 16th AVA, or American Viticultural Area.

The Coombsville Appellation consists of approximately 11,000 acres and is bound by the Napa River to the west, to the rim of Vaca Range on the east, with altitudes ranging from near sea level at the western edge of the City of Napa, to approximately 1900 ft at Mt. George in the north. The horseshoe-shaped west-facing ridge of the Vaca Range partially encircles the Coombsville area, helping define the north, east and southern boundaries of this newest viticultural area. Coombsville AVA is a sub-appellation of the larger Napa Valley AVA and the multi-county North Coast AVA.

Coombsville Vintner Tom Farella of Farella Vineyard, who co-authored the AVA petition with fellow vintner Brad Kitson, said, “It’s a great day for all of us that have been growing grapes in Coombsville for decades. Coombsville now has its proper place in the Napa Valley lexicon and on the appellation maps. Since the Coombsville name has been in use for so many years, having it placed among the great wine regions of the world feels a little like coming home.”

The Coombsville Appellation is an incredibly distinct area that differs from nearby AVAs in soils, geography and climate. The soils are primarily dominated by the volcanic rhyolitic tuff that comprises the Vaca Range on the eastern side of the Napa Valley.

“I think when people see it on the map they will wonder why it wasn’t there all along because of how it fits into the puzzle pieces of the Napa Valley as a whole. It may have taken awhile to happen, but now it’s locked in and we are very proud of that,” Farella added.

Most of Coombsville’s vineyards are located in the wide alluvial deposits created by the wearing down of the hillsides. These soils are abundant with rock and gravel and, in some areas, are also layered with volcanic ash deposits from Mount George. Separately and in various combinations, these two components provide a variety of planting options specific to each site.

In addition, the close proximity to the San Francisco Bay contributes to the temperate climate of Coombsville. The cooling effects of marine fog occur earlier and last longer than in the more northern regions and temperatures are less extreme during the winter frost season. Bud break is often sooner and harvest is usually later, leading to a longer growing season.  These differences impart unique characteristics in the wines that are produced in this region.

Coombsville wines can be recognized by their soft, but significant tannins, which provide excellent structure and mouthfeel, along with underlying layers of earth and mineral flavors. They are quite often approachable yet sophisticated, complex and layered. Primary varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals, Syrah, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

“The members of Coombsville Vintners and Growers welcome the newfound attention to our little corner of Napa Valley. We are excited to showcase the amazing vineyards in Coombsville and the distinct and beautiful wines that are being made in the 16th AVA of Napa Valley,” stated Rebecca Sciandri Griffin, Sciandri Family Vineyards, President of Coombsville Vintners and Growers.

The “Newly Recognized, but Long Established” Coombsville Vintners & Growers welcome visitors to one of the Napa Valley’s historic and most relaxed regions. Coombsville Appellation wineries are primarily family-owned and operated, producing limited quantities of super-premium quality wines. The Coombsville Appellation is a mere one-hour drive from San Francisco, and only minutes from Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury hotels, spas, and B&B's in the city of Napa.

For more information on the Coombsville Appellation, and the Coombsville Vintners & Growers, please visit

Clay Gregory
Owner, Inherit the Sheep Winery

Clay Gregory has more than 25 years of marketing and management experience in multiple industries, building consensus and developing outstanding programs with a wide variety of partners across many fields.  He is currently the President and CEO of the Napa Valley Destination Council, whose mission is to protect and enhance The Napa Valley's position as North America’s legendary wine, food, arts and wellness capital by:  

  • Effectively communicating legendary Napa Valley destination experiences to domestic and international targeted media and Leisure and Small Group markets;
  • Supporting the delivery of legendary guest services  to our destination's guests;
  • Supporting visitor management through encouraging "off peak” seasonal and Sunday through Thursday travel patterns.
The Council works with all Napa County guest-serving businesses and community stakeholders to encourage informed consensus and active support for initiatives that impact tourism.

Prior to his current role, Gregory served as President of Jackson Family Wines, a collection consisting of more than a dozen independently operated wineries and brands in prestigious California winegrowing regions such as Napa Valley, Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara County as well as International wineries in St. Emilion, Chianti, Australia and Chile.  Gregory was responsible for all marketing, winemaking, vineyard and general management of the various wineries within Jackson Family Wines.

In 2003, Gregory was President of the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley Wine Auction.  The NVV has more than 350 member wineries and is dedicated to promoting and protecting the Napa Valley to media, trade and consumer audiences. 

Gregory’s role with the NVV was preceded by his position of Vice President and General Manager of Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, California. Clay’s diverse responsibilities over his fourteen year tenure at RMW included managing all winemaking, vineyard, marketing and visitor programs operations. In addition to his managerial duties, he oversaw the strategic direction of the winery, including the To Kalon Project, the first significant renovation and enhancement to the Winery since its construction in 1966.  Clay’s initial position with Robert Mondavi was Brand Manager for Vichon Winery and Byron Vineyards and Winery.

Prior to his stint at Robert Mondavi, Gregory spent more than six years at Motorola, Inc., in Cupertino, California as a Marketing Manager for the company’s Computer Systems division.  Previous to Motorola, Clay demonstrated his early love of wine through two years of “doing almost everything” at Congress Springs Vineyards, a small, family-owned winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.  He tended vines, worked in the cellar, ran the tasting room and managed sales in Northern California.

Born in Manhattan Beach, California, Gregory grew up in northern California. He received his undergraduate and MBA degrees from San Jose State University, with a concentration in Marketing.

In addition to his term as President of the Board of Directors of the Napa Valley Vintners, he served previously as President of the Oakville Winegrowers.  In addition, he is on the Boards of Directors of Napa Humane, Auction Napa Valley, the Napa Chamber of Commerce and the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis.

Travel, cooking and dining are some of his passions beyond wine.  He lives with his wife, two Basset hounds, four sheep, three goats and two hens in Napa.

Lauren A. Ackerman
Owner, Ackerman Family Vineyards

Ms. Ackerman has been actively involved within the Napa community since 1994 and has a passion for community-building, innovative education and strategic philanthropy.  Prior to her involvement with various local organizations, Ms. Ackerman had her own successful international management consulting practice from 1990 as well as a successful technology marketing organization beginning in 1982.  Through her consulting practice and marketing company, Ms. Ackerman focused on business development strategies, distribution network policies  and strategic marketing for over 75 corporations, including companies such as Pacificare, Philips Electronics, Sun Microsystems, HP, Sony, Toshiba, Motorola and several others. When her company was sold in 1988, Ms. Ackerman moved to the San Francisco Bay area from Southern California that same year.

Within the non-profit community of Napa County, Ms. Ackerman served as Chairman of the Board at the Napa Valley Community Foundation which she joined as a trustee in February 2003. In this role, she was active in strategic marketing, fundraising, donor education and non-profit collaboration.  The Napa Valley Community Foundation serves as the strategic philanthropic resource for the roughly 350 non-profit organizations throughout Napa County and has grown from $7.5 million to over $20 million in community donor assets in the last five years.

Previous to her chairmanship at NVCF, Ms. Ackerman served as Chairman of Trustees for Copia:  The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa. Her passion for education led Ms. Ackerman to start and fund educational garden programs for youth K-12 which resulted in reaching approximately 6500 students the first year. Additionally, Ms. Ackerman was a founding Trustee at Blue Oak School located in downtown Napa -- an independent, innovative progressive school serving Kindergarten through 8th grade.  At Blue Oak, she assisted with development activities within the community as well as fundraising for the acquisition of additional facilities for expansion of this school.

In November of 2003, Ms. Ackerman completed the one-year strategic philanthropy program called “The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW)” developed by the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, which explores strategic issues related to global philanthropic needs. Ms. Ackerman’s cohort group traveled to South Africa for its international emphasis and funded three collaborative grants in Johannesburg and Capetown.  Additionally, as part of her personal grantmaking initiative within TPW, Ms. Ackerman created and implemented a “Strategic Philanthropy Day” at Copia that brought donors and non-profits together for the first time to discuss collaboration opportunities within the Napa community. As a result of her work with TPW, she opted to join the board of the Napa Valley Community Foundation instead of forming her own private foundation.

Ms. Ackerman also served on the Steering Committee of the Mayor’s Roundtable which was tasked with the creation of an Arts Commission for Napa Valley.  The Arts Commission worked side-by-side with local and state government and the business community to develop a cultural development plan for the area.  Additionally, Ms. Ackerman served on the board of the Napa Valley Conference & Visitors Bureau, now known as the Destination Council. This non-profit organization manages the economic development issues for the Napa Valley County as it relates to tourism.  Ms. Ackerman was also actively involved with the “Destination Brand Strategy” for Napa County through NVCVB.

Until early 2011, Ms. Ackerman served on the Advisory Board for the Institute of International Education (, a $400 million non-profit, based in New York and Washimgton, D.C., funded in part by the State Department, the United Nations and public corporations to bring over 18,000 international visitors to the US for cultural and business exchange.  Known best for its Fullbright Scholar program among over 200 international programs, Ms. Ackerman and her Executive North Bay Chapter Team hosted over eight delegations visiting Napa from over 40 countries for dialog and educational understanding of international issues.

Currently, Ms. Ackerman serves on the Board of NapaLearns, an organization that is working to change the educational landscape for over 17,000 students in Napa County through the application of the four C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity via technology as a key tool.
Ms. Ackerman resides in Napa, CA with her husband, Bob, and her two sons Robert and Alexander.  She and her husband own Ackerman Family Vineyards, a small boutique winery making cabernet sauvignon since 1995 with 100% net proceeds being donated to the Napa Valley Community Foundation.  Ms. Ackerman enjoys sailing, hiking and is an avid horse rider.

Ken Frank
Executive Chef and Owner of La Toque

Chef Ken Frank is entirely self-taught. He began his career at 16 with a dish washing job in France and quickly worked his way through the kitchen ranks to become a successful chef at a very young age. In 1977, at Age 21 he burst onto the culinary scene in Los Angeles as head chef at La Guillotine. He was the first “young American chef” on the West coast. Ken was the opening Chef at Michael’s in Santa Monica, considered the Los Angeles birthplace of “California Cuisine,” which he left in 1979 to open the original La Toque on the Sunset Strip at age 23. Young, curious and restless, he pioneered a style of cooking that has become widespread today. His early insistence on using on the finest, often local artisanal ingredients, is now at the heart of great cooking in America.

After a 14-year run, Ken sold La Toque to the Chateau Marmont Hotel next door and went to work with Issac Tigrett at the House of Blues. He opened the New Orleans House of Blues before returning to Los Angeles to open the House of Blues Sunset Strip. Ken was tasked with developing the Foundation Room, a private members only restaurant on the top floor.

In 1995, Ken was hired by the Lancaster Group to take over the kitchen in the Argyle Hotel and opened “fenix at the Argyle.” At fenix that Ken introduced the concept of wine pairing with his tasting menu, the “Menu Fantaisie”. The restaurant immediately received rave reviews including Gourmet Magazine and the Mobil 4 Star Award. It was named by John Mariani in Esquire Magazine as one of America’s Best New Restaurants for 1995. In 1998, The Argyle Hotel was sold and Ken decided to pursue his dream of moving to Napa Valley to open a new La Toque.

In September 1998 the second incarnation of La Toque opened in Rutherford at The Rancho Caymus Inn and immediately became a destination in Napa Valley.  This new La Toque was the subject of articles in a wide range of national publications; Gourmet Magazine, Travel and Leisure, W, Esquire, New York Times, L A Times, USA Today, Wine Enthusiast and more. In March 2000, La Toque was named one of the 20 Best Restaurants in America by the Wine Spectator. In 2007, The Michelin Guide published its first San Francisco Bay Area guide and La Toque was awarded a prestigious Michelin Star. That same year, Ken was approached by the Westin to move La Toque to the new Westin Verasa in Napa.

After exactly ten years in Rutherford, in September 2008, La Toque moved to the town of Napa and the new Westin Verasa Napa. The newest La Toque with a spectacular show kitchen quickly received more great reviews in the press. In October 2009, La Toque Napa earned its own Michelin Star.

He is married and lives in Napa with his wife Sherylle, three cats, an African Grey Parrot and a flock of egg laying hens. Between them they have two grown children.

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