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The Best Napa Wines You've Never Heard Of

family photo by grape press
Jesse, his patient wife and future winemakers

As a wine lover, I’m always on the hunt for winemakers and wines that are flying under the radar. At a recent wine dinner at The Craftsman Cocktails and Kitchen in Tempe, Arizona I had the pleasure of meeting Jesse Giacomelli and tasting his Copper Bear wines. For all my fellow Napa wine fans, I’m happy to let you in on this undiscovered gem.


Copper Bear is Giacomelli’s passion project. Originally from Arizona, the copper is a nod to his native state, while the bear is the symbol of his current home. Right now, his wine label is a side gig. Those in the wine industry know him best as the winemaker for Napa icon Andy Beckstoffer.


It’s all about Terroir

vineyards for Napa wines
Famous Napa Vineyards

Copper Bear wines are handcrafted and made in extremely small batches (only 500 cases a year). What makes them stand out is that they’re part of a handful of wines made from Napa’s premiere cru vineyards. If you know Napa, you know the vineyards that make its cult, ultra-premium wines. Giacomelli is lucky to source the grapes for his Copper Bear wines from those same vineyards.


The Road to Winemaking

man in vineyard
The quality of Copper Bear wines starts in the vineyard

Like many people, Giacomelli didn’t originally plan on being a winemaker. He followed a traditional path, attending the University of Arizona and landing a job in San Diego. But once in California he and his now wife spent weekends exploring the Santa Barbara wine country.


As the wine bug started to take root, he met a man who had a small vineyard in north San Diego and worked the harvest for a day. The owner sold him some extra grapes and he started to experiment with wine-making in his kitchen.


“My wife saw my passion and suggested that maybe wine should be my career and that got my wheels turning,” he said.


With her support, he quit his job, worked a full harvest in Napa and was completely hooked. He applied to the master’s program at UC Davis and learned everything he needed to start his career in wine.


“I had a blast,” he said with a laugh. “Wine school is the best two years of school imaginable.”


After graduation, he worked for a small vineyard in the Alexander Valley and then got the opportunity with Beckstoffer.


Copper Bear Style

wine bottles
Copper Bear Cabs

Giacomelli started Copper Bear in 2019 with two barrels of wine and a big dream.


He drained his savings to buy expensive French barrels and really expensive grapes to launch his label.


“I wanted to have my own brand where I could translate my artistic thoughts into making wine in the style I wanted to do,” he said.


Copper Bear Cabernet is a bit different than the typical Napa Cab. While the Napa style is heavily extracted with long fermentation, Giacomelli’s wines have a shorter fermentation cycle which results in softer, silkier tannins. His wines are lower in alcohol, use less new oak and are smoother and more approachable in their youth. If you like the Napa wines that Cathy Corison produces, you’ll probably love Copper Bear.


Sophisticated Rosé

bottle of rose wine
A rosé like no other

Rosé often gets pigeonholed as a poolside, fun wine. And to be fair, that’s as elevated as many  get. But the Copper Bear 2021 rosé turns that stereotype upside down.


The secret goes back to where Giacomelli’s sourcing the grapes from. No one, and I mean no one, had done a rosé from these vineyards before.


“My friends told me that no one would be nuts enough to take the best grapes in the world and put them into a rosé,” he said. “I agreed and said ‘let’s do it!’”


Using a blend of 50 percent Merlot and 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, the Copper Bear is already unique. These grapes give the rosé more structure and color than the rosé I drink like water in the South of France.


Giacomelli only bottled two barrels of the rosé but the reception to it was off the charts.


“I guess I’m making rosé like this every year now,” he quipped.


Copper Bear sells its wine direct to consumer. The wines are also featured in gourmet restaurants like Café Monarch and Maple and Ash in Scottsdale.







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