Winery Review: Napa Valley's Italics Winegrowers

By Dathan Kazsuk

"It's true, the winery is new. But the soil is as old as dirt."

That's the motto used by Italics Winegrowers, one of Coombsville AVA's newest wineries on the block. This viticultural area lies just east of the city of Napa and is home to a whopping 34 wineries. These wineries are all small producers and family-owned – and visits are by appointment only. Out of all these wineries we selected Italics because, as I like to say, 'Go with what you know.' 

We've tasted Italics here in Raleigh several times during the annual Triangle Wine Experience weekend, had the opportunity to talk to managing partner Taylor Martin in Wake Forest, and we're both familiar with the wines produced by Italics' winemaker, Steve Reynolds of Reynolds Family Winery. So visiting Italics was a no-brainer.

Upon our arrival at Italics, we slithered up a pathway to the top of a hill. Behind us a body of grapevines running in different directions, each lots fruit just beginning to bud with the end of spring just around a month away. The morning fog hangs over the ridge of the Vaca mountain range in the distance. The brisk, morning air feels good, as a slight shiver chills the body. Or maybe it is the anticipation as we finally make our way to the crest of the hill and view the three large concrete caves that penetrate the hillside.

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The picturesque view behind us led to snapping a few photos before we made our way to the entrance of the cave's main tasting room. As we walked into the room we were met by our host for the tasting, David Gunkle. After we confirm that we're in the right location he starts by pouring us a sample of the winery's Proprietary White Wine, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Gunkle walks us back outside to tell us the history of the grounds and the Taylor family who owns the winery. 

"We have several things in common," Gunkle tells the two of us while still enjoying the view outside. "I'm from North Carolina, too. I just moved from Garner to Napa three weeks ago," he says. It always seems no matter how far we stray from Raleigh or North Carolina, we always find some connection back home. Gunkle then goes on to tell us that he used to be the wine manager at our local Total Wine down the road, and that we even have mutual friends back in Raleigh. What a small world. 

As we made our way into one of the entrances on the side of the hill I think to myself, 'We are now entering a Hobbit hole filled with outstanding wine.' But this was a little more high-tech than any Hobbit hole I've ever seen. David proceeds to tells us all about the equipment inside the cave, as well as what juice is in each barrel, and we even get a quick lesson on how to read the labels on the head of the barrels. 

Shortly after our tour of the caves we made our way to the main tasting room, where set up lie before us. Four wines glasses, our tasting sheets and note pads. David pour the first red for us, the 2013 Italics Sixteen Appellations. Made up from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. 

That was followed by the 2015 Italics Proprietary Red Wine, 2014 Italics One of Sixteen Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain and the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. All these wines were just as great as the last one David poured. As we enjoyed our wine, we continued to discuss all-things-Raleigh. We discussed two of our favorite Raleigh-area breweries, which David and Dathan both agreed on Trophy Brewing and Bond Brothers. And we even discussed some North Carolina wine – and how there are some good wineries in our state that could fit right in the friendly confides of Napa Valley.

"I really like Jones von Drehle," David says. "We are club members, and I'm actually keeping my membership with the winery." Again, such a small world. We are also club members of Jones von Drehle, and told him we're looking forward to the winery's pick up party this June.

The tasting continued as David then decided he was going to pour for us the estate-grown 2015 Cabernet Franc. This rare wine grows on roughly 1-acre of land on the property and it allocated exclusively for wine club members. The nose of this wine was like smelling fresh, ripe plums with a bouquet of violets – and was pretty mind-blowing.

When all the wine was consumed and we made our purchase and said our goodbyes, we came to the conclusion at the end of our Napa excursion that this was one of our best experiences of the trip. The hospitality we received from the winery (from one of its co-owners prior to arriving, to David's reception and email conversations with Italics' Victoria Stewart) was second to none. If anyone reading this plans a visit to the Napa-area, do yourself a favor and make Italics one of your stops. You'll fall in love with the product produced by this winery just like we have!

Italics Winegrowers is located at 70 Rapp Lane in Napa. They can be reached at 707-258-0106 or my email at info@italicswine.com.