Copain was one of the first California producers I really geeked out on. My first taste was a 2006 Syrah from the famed Brosseau Vineyard, which I tasted in 2009, and I was sold immediately. I bought a case of aged Syrahs (2003-2006) from a friend soon after, and I was blown away by how well these wines were aging. The fruit lasted long, but the non-fruit complexity (in the form of olive brine, black pepper, carnitas, bacon fat) really spoke to my palate.
I visited the Sonoma winery a few times since, and have bought up Copain wines wherever I find them. Wells Guthrie is the man behind Copain, who founded the winery in 1999. After studying with world-famous Rhone winemaker Michel Chapoutier in 1996, Wells decided to chase his love of Rhone wines in California. He describes himself as a “California winemaker with a European sensibility,” and I think that holds up in his wines.
While single-vineyard Syrah is what drew me in (and that’s still a huge part of Copain’s vision), Wells crafts some stellar wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Trousseau as well. In 2016, California heavyweight Jackson Family purchased Copain for an undisclosed sum, a purchase that included the winery and tasting room as well. Wells stuck around, however, and Jackson Family stated their intention of maintaining the style of the brand. While I’ve only tasted a few wines made since the sale, that seems to be the case.
I gathered a few Copain-loving friends recently and decided to open older bottles to see how they were holding up. Not a bad wine in the lot, but there were definitely some stunners. It’s great to see a winery I fell for almost a decade ago still going strong.
My notes on the wines I tasted are below.
2010 Copain Chardonnay Brosseau Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Chalone
Wow, this is exceptional and surprising. Such lively aromas, no hints of oxidation or exhaustion here at all, just lemon curd and crushed limestone. Precise acidity through and though, yet the plush texture is awesome. Minerals and flowers and honeycomb accentuate the juicy lemon and yellow pear fruit. Wow, still going strong, and a wonderful showing. This comes from a fascinating site at 1,600 feet in the Chalone appellation with rare combo of limestone and granite soils. (93 points)
2003 Copain Syrah Cailloux & Coccinelle - Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
Whoa, so smoky and bacony on the nose, and some menthol and mint elements, on top of saucy blueberries. Some volatile acidity on the palate, but not a lot, and its woven in well, and the tannins are quite soft. Tangy blueberries and blackberries, fruit still going, but the wine is just packed with olives and black peppercorns and bacon fat. Loving the smooth, savory aspects in this wine, but definitely at the end of its run. Still lovely, though! (93 points)
2003 Copain Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Aromas of blackberries, tart cherries, a lots of smoke and meat. Crisp acidity on the palate, plump texture and the blackberry fruit is still going. Notes of violets, smoke, olive brine, pepper, beef broth and roasted red pepper. Nice and tangy with a peppery finish. Still going! From a vineyard 1,800 feet above Ukiah Valley in Mendocino County. (92 points)
2007 Copain Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Darker than the 2003 and more concentrated. Lots of blueberries, plum cake, loaded with violets and black pepper. Silky smooth, still structured though with some dusty tannins. Black cherry and blueberry fruit is alive and kicking, and I love the smoke, olive tapenade, gravelly earth and violet petal elements going on here. This really is a pretty Syrah in a beautiful place. (93 points)
2005 Copain Syrah Madder Lake - California, North Coast, Lake County
Dark and plummy on the nose with violets and black olives. Surprising grip on the tannins, this is quite dense actually, but some fresh acidity. Black currants and rich black cherries, quite “purple” in its approach. Floral as well with potting soil and violets. One of the wines that needs more time, which I found surprising and interesting. A Lake County vineyard, in red volcanic soils, above the beautiful Clear Lake in Southern Lake County. (90 points)
2006 Copain Syrah Hawks Butte Vineyard - California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
Dark and fruity nose with rich plums and blackberries and a spicy/smoky element. Rich but bright on the palate with structured tannins, bright acidity, and I get a lot of tart currant and plum fruit. Charcoal, smoky bacon, roasted red pepper, coffee grounds, rich earth. On Day 2, this got even more expressive. Still time ahead, but this is very impressive. More put-together and prettier than a bottle of this I had in 2016. Lucky me! This site, north of Yorkville, is full of rocky soils and vines planted in a series of benches and hillsides at the base of Hawks Butte. (92 points)
2009 Copain Syrah Brosseau Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Chalone
My wine of the night – just a stunner. Dark purple color and lots of rich but tangy black and blue fruit on the nose, along with a deep sense of violets and scorched earth. Fleshy and plump on the palate but structured tannins and refreshing acidity. Blackberry and blueberry fruit, laced with smoke, violets, anise, black pepper, and a pervasive sense of minerals and iron. Gorgeous stuff that has years to go. (94 points)
2009 Copain Syrah James Berry Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
This was surprisingly closed down (compared to the others). Good stuff inside for sure, it just stayed tight the whole night, even Day 2 it wasn’t as expressive. Gobs of dark fruit on the nose. Structured tannins provide lots of grip, medium acidity. Dense black fruit, iron, smoke, graphite, pepper and violets. Young still, I’d let this sit for three or four years. Damn, Wells’ wine age for quite a while. Iconic Paso Robles vineyard, 10 miles from the ocean, clay over ancient seabed soils. (90 points)