Legends often begin in the most ordinary surroundings. For Tony Cartlidge and Glen Browne, as with many great entrepreneurs and iconoclasts of the 20th century, the legend began in 1980 in an undistinguished Napa Valley garage. Cartlidge—a dreamer with a love of wine and a fondness for taking the road less traveled—and Browne—a man of great business sense and a small amount to invest—set out to build a wine company from scratch.
As far as they could tell, there was no need (or, more to the point, not enough money) to buy an estate. Only a desire to seek out the best vineyards, harvest the best grapes and make the best wine possible.
Cartlidge scoured the appellations of the North Coast in his 1960 Rambler, from Napa to Sonoma to Mendocino to Lake, to source grapes farmed with care and concern for the land. He brought the harvest back to a simple garage winery to handcraft wines they knew people would enjoy as much as they did. Cartlidge & Browne wines soon began to garner raves from critics and wine lovers alike.
Reaching up California's coastline and into its valleys north of San Francisco, the North Coast AVA includes six counties: Marin, Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake. While Napa and Sonoma enjoy most of the glory, the rest produce no shortage of quality wines in an intriguing and diverse range of styles.
Climbing up the state's rugged coastline, the chilly Marin County, just above the City and most of Sonoma County, as well as Mendocino County on the far north end of the North Coast successfully grow cool-climate varieties like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and in some spots, Riesling. Inland Lake County, on the other hand, is considerably warmer, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc produce some impressive wines with affordable price tags.
With generous fruit and supple tannins, Merlot is made in a range of styles from everyday-drinking to world-renowned and age-worthy. Merlot is the dominant variety in the wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank regions of St. Emilion and Pomerol, where it is often blended with Cabernet Franc to spectacular result. Merlot also frequently shines on its own, particularly in California’s Napa Valley. Somm Secret—As much as Miles derided the variety in the 2004 film, Sideways, his prized 1961 Château Cheval Blanc is actually a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.