Colombard, have you heard of it? It’s a lesser-known wine grape varietal that grows in surprising quantities right here in California. Native to France’s South West region known as Côtes de Gascogne, here Colombard is predominantly blended with other grapes (or other fruits) and then distilled into eaux-de-vie, Cognac, and Armagnac.

Despite its French heritage, California has the highest number of Colombard vineyards in the world and, in fact, Colombard is one of the most planted white wine grape varieties in the whole state. So why is it that we see so little of it?

Colombard grape vines, courtesy of Y. Rousseau Wines

Colombard was first brought to California around 1850, then called “West’s White Prolific,” referring to the, then, well-known San Joaquin County grape grower George West. The white grape’s popularity didn’t take off until the popularity of table wine in the 1960s and 70s. By 1987, there were over 90,000 acres of Colombard in California, mostly planted in the state’s Central Valley.

But though thousands of homes may have been serving Colombard on a daily basis, it was in the form of that generic “table wine,” blended among several other white grapes, sweetened, and bottled, mostly in, well, jug-form. And so it was that Colombard’s name — if known at all — was associated with cheap and low-quality wines.

Though jug and table wine aren’t as popular as they once were, and the overall number of Colombard plantings have dwindled, California plantings are still the largest in the world. One of the only producers to take advantage of that and produce single-varietal Colombard is Yannick Rousseau of Y.Rousseau Wines who utilizes the last two Colombard vineyards in the Russian River AVA of Sonoma County.

Warmer climates and fertile soils seem to encourage Colombard’s innate, over-productive nature. The Russian River Valley, however, receives coastal fog from the Pacific Ocean and cooling winds from the Petaluma gap, keeping the area quite cool. And, while day time temperatures can get hot in certain areas, the diurnal shift means night time temps can reach as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit. RRV’s dominant soil type is the unique Goldridge loam — a fine, sandy soil with good drainage and extremely low fertility. The combination of the cooler climate and Goldridge soil means that the vines productivity are forced to slow down and the grapes mature at a steadier rate. It means that here, in the heart of the Sonoma Coast, one can — and should — enjoy a single-varietal Colombard.

Read about Y.Rousseau 2015 Old Vines Colombard


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