Y. Rousseau’s Colombard is called “old vines,” but it could also be called “only vines,” as the vineyard sourced for these white grapes is one of the last of just two or three remaining sites planted to Colombard in the Russian River Valley. There was a time in California’s history when Colombard was the number one grape grown, predominantly in the Central Valley, where it was used to produce “easy drinkers” (aka jug wine), as well as add a crisp acidic backbone when blended with other white varietals. Oh how times have changed. Even in the grape’s native Gascony the Colombard vineyards are dwindling, as its prone to powdery rot and mildew. So, suffice it to say, Yannick was pleased to find these old vines growing in his new Northern California wine country home. And, like the passionate professional he is, he pays due respect with his expression of this lesser-known grape variety.
If tasting wines from Y. Rousseau, a journey into the somewhat obscure (for California) Colombard grape is a must. Yannick, owner and winemaker of Y. Rousseau wines, is a native Gascon — as is the white grape Colombard. So it’s only appropriate that in 1996, while studying for his winemaking degree at Toulouse University and interning at Côtes de Gascogne, the first wine Yannick ever made was Colombard. When Yannick eventually founded Y. Rousseau Wines in 2008, Colombard was his “inaugural wine,” and, according to Yannick, remains one of his most popular.
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?