By Kevin Nelson
Some call it ‘the Golden Mile’—the short stretch of road that connects the tiny, nationally renowned restaurant town of Yountville with the Silverado Trail on the north side of Napa Valley. The Yountville Cross Road, its formal name, has wineries, lovely, fertile vineyards and now, a new entrant in the Napa Valley winemaking scene, Goosecross. Its owner and CEO is Christi Coors Ficeli.
“I wanted to make a difference,” said Coors Ficeli, while standing on the back deck of Goosecross, surrounded by vineyards that had turned burnt orange in the late fall. She was talking about why she had decided to buy the 11-acre property, for an undisclosed sum, and go into the wine business when her family had made their name, and fortune, in beer.
“I fell in love with this place,” she said, shaded from a warm November morning sun by an oak tree that stands at the center of the deck. “The view, the beauty, the wines. The sense of community here, the excitement around wine. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and yet my family has been supportive of me.”
Coors Ficeli is the great great granddaughter of Adolph Coors and for many years acted as a sales and marketing executive for the giant Colorado-based beer company. She joked that her family likes the fact that she owns Goosecross because people always expect them to drink beer socially, and now they have a wine they can drink without being embarrassed about it.
Wine drinkers may recognize the Goosecross name; it is hardly a new brand, there has been a Goosecross winery at this spot, on State Lane just off the Yountville Cross Road, for years. But Coors Ficeli and her company have changed things so much that the place has been made new. The old oak still stands where it has stood for generations, and Bill Nancarrow, the New Zealand-born winemaker, decided to retain the original tanks from the old winery to preserve continuity with Goosecross’s past. Other than these features, though, it’s basically a whole new space. The tasting room has an airy, contemporary Napa Valley barn-style look and feel and opens up to views of the vineyards and the mountains that rim the valley on the west.
The Gorsuch family, the previous owners, lived in a house on site. That house is now gone, and in its place is a barrel room that serves as another clean, well-lighted space for tastings and parties. The barrels when we were there (this was a press gathering, held to promote Goosecross’s recent opening and its new releases) held vintage 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, barely 15 days old, and Nancarrow withdrew some of the red juice from a barrel and gave us each a taste. It was, as the editor-publisher next to me said, “quite a mouthful,” and it made me look forward to what it will taste like when it’s aged and in a bottle.
Two wines we tasted that drew raves and are available now were a 2011 Goosecross State Lane Merlot—“This Merlot takes me back to the early Duckhorn days,” said noted wine expert and writer Allen Balik, who was also present. “It’s more true to what the grape should be offering”—and a 2012 Goosecross State Lane Cabernet Franc.
Part of the event included a tour of the winery conducted by Nancarrow, and Balik’s observation was on point because before coming to Goosecross, he was winemaker at Duckhorn and Paraduxx, both highly regarded Napa Valley wines with, coincidentally enough, ducks on their labels and in their names. Nancarrow’s recent winemaking career is jokingly referred to as “Duck, ‘duxx, Goose.” Goosecross’s striking black label also shows a golden bird in flight—a goose, naturally.
Nancarrow, who described his approach as “more of an evolution, rather than a revolution” in terms of carrying on the spirit and tradition of the Goosecross brand that has been around since the 1980s, showed off the old heritage tanks as well as a new concrete egg-shaped tank that stands front and center as you enter the winery building.
He said he had to persuade a reluctant Coors Ficeli of the value of the egg before she agreed to buy it. “A goose has to have an egg, right?” he joked with his boss standing by smiling. But the 185-gallon egg is already proving useful to the winery, which conducted its maiden crush only this past summer. Both the egg and a set of more traditional stainless steel tanks currently hold two batches of Riesling, which are different enough in taste for Nancarrow to call them “two distinct wines.” Since Goosecross was not about to release two different Rieslings—it is a small production winery, each wine being produced in the hundreds of cases per year—Nancarrow decided to conduct “a little experiment,” as he called it, asking the press what they thought of the wines.
We sampled a glass from the egg Riesling, and then one from the tank Riesling, looking for “the very pure fruit characteristic” sought by the winemaker. The consensus was that a blend of the two would do the trick, which was clearly his thinking as well because at lunch he served us glasses of the two Rieslings—43 percent of the wine from the egg and 57 percent from the tank—merged into one. This was another winner, again making us look forward to what was ahead for this new Golden Mile venture whose ancestral roots can in a way be traced back more than a century ago to a little beer-making venture in the mountains of Golden, Colorado.
For more photos of Goosecross, please see the pictures on display at Kevin Nelson’s blog WineTravelAdventure. Visitors to the tasting room and winery are urged to call ahead for reservations. 800-276-9210 or 707-944-1986 or consult the website.