by Fred McMillin
for February 24, 1999


This Char Is Up to Par


" The golf tee is on the patio between our winery and our home, overlooking 1,500 feet of valley floor. It's one hole, a par 50."

... Golf-loving Proprietors Ayn and David Coleman

The Rest of the Story

If you think a winery with a golf tee high in the Mayacamas Mountains (that separate the Sonoma and Napa Valleys) is unconventional, you ain't heard nothing yet. For example...

  • Enology—Chemical enginering at M.I.T., design at the Pratt Institute, and then on to the Parsons School of Design. That's it. No U.C.-Davis for David Coleman, who says his lack of structured wine training is an advantage. "Since I don't know something can't be done, I just do it."

  • The Shotgun—The 30-acre property had been up for sale seven years when David bought it. As he walked the site for his mountain winery, the owner of the adjoining tract confronted him shotgun in hand, believing he must be a prowler.

  • Bats—Soon after he met and married Ayn Ryan, finances dictated that they construct their home very slowly. While eating dinner, it was not unusual for bats to fly through holes in the incomplete roof.

  • Back to Enology—David fused his love of wine and design in his Santa Rosa office. He created over 50 striking labels. "Since I wasn't a winemaker, I could ask all the dumb [dumb like a fox] questions I wanted at the different wineries, and they would actually answer them." Before long, he had a pretty good idea of what TO DO and what NOT TO DO in winemaking... a unique course in enology.

  • Estate-owned Grapes—In spite of the prestige associated with owning your own grapes, David's position is that "if I owned them, I'd have to use them." Instead, he deliberately purchases the grapes that have the characteristics he wants. Thus, he says his wines are made in the vineyards.

    Adler Fels Chardonnay

    Adler Fels  
    Let's see how that works with the Chardonnay. Not so long ago David gave me an example. Crisp acidity decreases as the grapes ripen. Hence, he picked the Bunker Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain early when the acid content was high. Then Sangiacomo Vineyard was picked a month later. Spell that richer, more-concentrated flavors. Then, to get the desired balance, he used two parts of the Bunker to one part of the Sangiacomo. That's how the wine "was made in the vineyard."

    Today's Wine(s)

    David makes two blends, an ultra-rich Coleman Reserve, and a less-complicated Sonoma County Chardonnay (which in David's typically irreverent manner used to be labelled "UNRESERVED"). Checking my notes, my panel tasted the first (1990) Reserve on May 9, 1992 and it won Best White. More suprising, on May 2nd, the less-expensive Sonoma County ALSO won Best White. The $14 '97 County and the $16 Reserve are now available and are as impressive as ever.


    We shouldn't ignore the Ayn factor in all of this. She is the niece of the founders of Chateau St. Jean, and grew up among the vines and wines. Re sales, phone her at (707) 539-3123.

    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


    WineDay Annex

    More articles by
    Fred McMillin


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