On the Trail

The Grower and Vintner Partnership

David Driscoll

After a tremendous response to our initial offering of Thomas Coyne's library offerings along with the tribute piece we published here at On the Trail, we're excited to show everyone round two of the late winemaker's final cuvées. I spoke with Thomas's daughter Anne Marie again this week about the specs on some of the included expressions, and she suggested I reach out to Robert Scharph—the owner and vineyard manager of Quartz Hill Vineyard in El Dorado Country. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, Bob's estate was a source of fruit for a number of Coyne's wines over the years, and one of the petit sirah selections from this latest batch of selections comes from Quartz Hill. Robert and Thomas had a long and lasting friendship and even created an annual seminar at Coyne's Chateau Bellevue called the Grower and Vintner Partnership, which covered in detail the symbiotic relationship between the two parties. 

"Tom and I met through the Berkeley Ski Club with Kent Rosenblum, who was a home winemaker at the time," Bob said during our phone conversation. "We started making wine in Kent's house and that's how we connected. Later on Tom teamed up with Kent to work in the cellar at his winery. Around 1975 we bought some property in Placerville and figured we’d start planting some grapes to make wine for ourselves. We had twenty acres and things just got out of hand. We started planting more and more and more. That's when Tom said he was looking for some good grapes, so he bought some of our merlot and he loved it. It turned out that the merlot he made won the award for best wine in show at the El Dorado County Fair soon after that. He bought it year after year from that point on."

Tom's relationships with his growers went beyond simple business, however. He enjoyed the process of the harvest and the work that went into it as much as the winemaking itself. "He would come up here and pick grapes, have dinner, spend the night, and go back with a load in his truck," Bob added. "He always paid a fair price and we loved having him." As Tom's daughter Anne Marie had mentioned to me in an earlier conversation, her father seemed to treasure the relationships he formed with the farmers he worked with; searching out new partners to work with across the state partly for the positive new friendship that may lie in waiting. Of the latest batch of Coyne wines that just landed at K&L, there are varietals from the Livermore Valley, Lodi, and of course the El Dorado Hills appellation where Bob's Placerville property sits. Thomas loved searching both near and far for potential projects.

The 2010 Quartz Hill Estate wine made from Bob's grapes is already the runaway staff favorite from the recent delivery. With its dark and vibrant core of blueberry fruit, flanked on the sides by violets and mineral notes, the signs of maturity after six years in the bottle are stunning. The wine is ready to drink and offers more complexity frankly than we're used to offering for ten bucks. "We planted petit sirah after that whole thing happened with merlot and Sideways, and Tom picked up on that. It turned out to be a great clone which he did well with," Bob added. "In fact, after Tom passed away another local winemaker got a hold of me and said he’d like to buy the petit sirah wines Tom had been working with." But Bob hasn't forgotten the Coyne legacy one bit. "We’re actually featuring Tom’s petit sirah at our granddaughter’s wedding coming up here soon. We’ve written up a nice memorium to him, talking about how special the wines are and how they represent the end of an era. We're thrilled to include Tom's wine in such a special occasion."

The deeply personal interactions that shaped Thomas Coyne's career are reflected not only in his admiration for the work beyond done in the vineyard, but an affection for the people behind the grapes who made the business worth doing. That respect was mutual according to Bob. "I miss him. I really miss him. We made wine together. We had dinner together. We skied together. He was a good friend and I'm so sad that he's gone." To view the entire selection of our most recent Thomas Coyne arrivals, click here.

-David Driscoll