Wells Guthrie scrimped and saved and lived on other people’s couches to make Copain, his boutique winery, a reality in 1999. His goal, nearly two decades in, remains the same: to make the Audrey Hepburn of wines — elegant and classy.
Wells is convinced California wines can be made with a European sensibility, and he points to the Paris Tasting of 1976 as proof. California, you recall, triumphed with the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet edging out the Bordeaux wines and the Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay upstaging the white Burgundies.
Guthrie and his Audrey Hepburn model of winemaking are behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Copain, 2017 Tous Ensemble, Mendocino County Rosé of Pinot Noir at $25. Elegant and lively, this rosé is buoyed by bright acidity and it’s layered with fresh red fruit and a hint of mineral. The rosé finishes crisp, and it’s striking.
“France is really the benchmark for rosé,” Guthrie said. “My first winemaking job was in the Rhone Valley, and I fell in love with the wines there, invigorating wines, wines with alcohol levels at 12 percent and 13 percent, not 16 percent. You don’t put them in the cellar. You pop the cork and drink them.”
Guthrie, 48, worked at Michel Chapoutier in 1996 and 1997, before returning to this side of the pond to work with the influential wine consultant Helen Turley on her Marcassin brand. When he later founded Copain, he adopted a “hands off” winemaking style.
“I never want to impose my will on the wines,” he said, “and I never want to mask the integrity of the fruit.”
The winemaker relies on natural yeast to mirror France’s long, drawn-out fermentation, because he said it’s what creates rosés’ complexity.
Perched on a hillside in the Russian River Valley, Copain focuses almost entirely on two brands — Tous Ensemble and Les Voisins. The word “copain” means “friend” or “buddy” in French, in keeping with the winery’s viewpoint that wine is best shared with friends and family.
Guthrie said he continues to take the lead in all aspects of winemaking, even though he sold his brands to Jackson Family Wines in 2016.
Named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s 10 innovators in 2008, Guthrie has been credited for leading a movement toward restrained power. He said his mentors — Michel Chapoutier and vintner Jean Louis Chaveand — were instrumental in shaping his winemaking philosophy, as well as his “joie de vie,” his “joy of life.”
“I eat and drink well,” Guthrie said with a laugh. “I meet some amazing people. The fringe benefits are amazing, and I get to love what I do.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or email@example.com.