A trip to Napa often consists of visits to glamorous winery castles with acres of beautiful forests and hills. No one can argue the stunning magnitude of some of the properties; it is a fantastic dreamland for wine lovers. As sensational as that may be, I like to mix it up with visits to less colossal, family-owned spots. I’m talking about the ones where the winemaker sits down with you at a picnic table for a wine chat. Moreover, I seek wines from places other than big famous wineries. I prefer those hidden gems that not everybody has had the chance to taste. Even more special is the experience of barrel tasting with the winemaker. All the while, he or she explains the new release’s nuances and how it differs from the prior vintage.
Despite its size, Copper Bear Wines, named after the state of Arizona as well as California, is making a big impression on both states. While the word Copper reflects Arizona’s history and economy, Bear represents the California Golden Bears. Pridefully, the wines are made by founder/winemaker, Jesse Giacomelli. He cherishes his roots and considers the two states home, where his small-batch wines are gaining recognition.
Giacomelli grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and is a graduate of the University of Arizona. His work in accounting and finance brought some contentment, but there was a creative itch needing to be scratched. The state of California was calling his name and Giacomelli and his wife moved to San Diego. They spent time wine tasting and exploring opportunities in Santa Ynez, in central California. It wasn’t too long before Giacomelli landed an opportunity to work his first harvest. He came home with purple-stained hands and a big grin on his face. His wife knew then this was much more than a hobby.
When Giacomelli stepped into the realm of wine, he had an overwhelmingly strong feeling that something was right. The path didn’t need paving, it just fell into place. The learning curve was easy because it brought so much joy and excitement. He earned his master’s degree in winemaking at UC Davis, where learning about the craft was the most fun he’d ever had. A few assistant winemaker positions later, he found himself in Napa, a winemaker/consultant for the acclaimed Beckstoffer Vineyards. Shortly after that, he became the founder/winemaker for his passion project, Copper Bear Wines. His work at Beckstoffer Vineyards has instilled in him the significance of having a sustainable focus and an outlook to keep everything well for the earth.
Copper Bear Wines sources fruit from some of the finest vineyards in Napa Valley. The choice grapes are from select spots in Rutherford, St. Helena, the Oak Knoll District, and the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. Producing small-batch lots, Copper Bear keeps an eye on quality by maintaining only 2-8 barrels per vintage, with a maximum of around 200 cases. Limited production makes attention to detail feasible and that is the backbone of this label. “If I want to stir my rosé barrels every day, I can do it. But if you have 1,000 barrels you can’t do it,” said Giacomelli. Constant tasting, stirring, and analyzing the wine on a daily basis is what yields Copper Bear’s desired result. Ultimately, it is the combination of high-quality fruit and a small lot of winemaking that leads to a pretty special product.
The wines at Copper Bear are Bordeaux-style and varietals. They are made in St. Helena by Giacomelli, who considers himself a texture-driven winemaker. The outcome is the balance of true Napa prestigious fruit with an old-world influence in winemaking. A common goal for Copper Bear is to make use of the muscle that Cabernet Sauvignon brings to the wine. All the while, the low amount of sulfur and the use of French and neutral oak help to develop a silky tannic structure and long finish. These wines have the ability to age, however, they also offer a smooth mouthfeel while young.
The superior product that Copper Bear delivers is only available for purchase in two states, naturally California and Arizona. You can find their wines at The Madrona in Healdsburg, California, as well as Maple & Ash in Scottsdale, Arizona, which carries all three wines and has been a Copper Bear supporter since its first release.
Furthermore, the wines are available at the following Tucson and Phoenix locations: Hacienda del sol, Feast, Agustin Kitchen, George Wine Shop, Quench Taps and Tapas, Gastromé Market as well as various country clubs including Desert Mountain Country Club, Arizona Country Club, The Country Club at DC Ranch, and FireRock Country Club. However, anyone who signs up to be on the mailing list has the opportunity to buy during the annual release each fall. To join, you can go to the link: www.copperbearwines.com/acquire. Giacomelli is happy to barrel taste with folks who sign up for the list.