Remembering Koerner Rombauer

We mourn the passing on May 10, 2018 of Napa Valley wine icon Koerner Rombauer, founder of Rombauer Vineyards, and also celebrate a life steeped in family, philanthropy, mentoring others, and the joy of wine and food.

My husband John and I first met Koerner while he was doing something he did a lot: raising money for worthy causes. We had been invited to co-host a luncheon at the Naples Winter Wine Festival, an annual wine auction event that raises millions of dollars for local community charities. I was the guest sommelier, helping serve and speak about the wines of Rombauer and D.R. Stephens, both of which were new to me at the time. Koerner was mild-mannered and humble about his wines, which had begun to take off in the marketplace, thanks in no small part to their signature opulent barrel-fermented style of Chardonnay that to this day enjoys legions of fans, me among them.

At the time of that luncheon, I could never have imagined that just a few short years later, John and I would be literally neighbors to Rombauer on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, seeing first-hand the family’s commitment to supporting the local community, from Little League to the massively impactful Auction Napa Valley, which the family chaired in 2011.

One of my favorite stories about Koerner is one I heard just recently. We this week celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Frank Family Winery with founder Rich Frank and his wife Leslie, at an amazing vertical tasting back to 1999 of their signature Winston Hill Cabernet-based blend. Rich had met Koerner on weekend visits to the Napa Valley in the early 1990s, and it was a call from Koerner about the bank sale of the historic Larkmead winery in Calistoga, that prompted Rich to put in a lowball offer. Days later came the follow-up call from Koerner saying, “Rich, you’re the proud owner of a winery.” Their friendship endured ever since.

Now, the 2nd and 3rd generation of Rombauers runs the winery, with Koerner’s son K.R. Rombauer at the helm. John and I got to know K.R. first at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine event, and were excited to have the chance to visit with and interview him for our Facebook Live series, which you can view here:

In addition to talking about Rombauer’s history and way forward, K.R. handily and definitively answered the question of whether the Rombauer style of Chardonnay ages well, by letting us taste a surprise vertical from the family’s cellar that included 1988 Reserve and 1989 (both made in the old style with less barrel fermentation and only partial malolactic conversion), followed by the full barrel, full malo style 1991, 1994, 1997 and 2009. They were amazing! Be sure to pop a bottle of Rombauer Chardonnay (2016 – the current vintage – is delicious but if you’ve got an older one in your cellar, even better!) while you watch the video, and toast to Koerner and the Joy of Wine.

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