Napa. Just one word puts a smile on my face when I think of the wonderful wines that this area produces. But what many people do not realize is the diversity of Napa’s microclimates and soils, which produces distinct wines among its 13 appellations (AVA). The largest AVA in Napa is Mt. Veeder, which has been the home to wineries since the 1880’s. Yet it wasn’t until 1973 that the first wine carried the Mount Veeder designation on its label. While most of the grapes grown here are Cabernet Sauvignon, the area manages to product 17 additional varietals: Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Gruner Veltlner, Albariño, Sangiovese, Carignane, Mataro, Sauvignon Blanc, and—whew—Mondeuse.
Mt. Veeder is somewhat unique in Napa. Much of the land is mountainous and covered with forests. It’s soil is an old seafloor of rocky clay, while most of Napa is volcanic soil. And even as California is experiencing severe drought, the area enjoys a higher rainfall and its clay retains water better than volcanic soil. It catches cool bay breezes, keeping its temperatures 10-15 degrees cooler than the valley floor and lengthening the growing season. As a result, the area produces very small berries that have a higher skin-to-flesh ratio and very rich flavors. Not surprisingly, it produces low tons/acre yield of the grapes—2 to 2.5 tons/acre or about half of the Napa Valley average.
In spite of its beauty, many visitors who go to Napa to taste wines never experience Mt. Veeder wines. First, many don’t even know about Mt. Veeder. Only 1,000 acres of the 25 square miles are planted with grapes due to the terrain and it produces a mere 1.3% of Napa’s grapes.
The terrain also deters visits by groups and buses. Many of the mountainous roads are dirt, making them more conducive to mountain bikes than vehicles or vans. Even once there, many of the 37 member wineries are family-owned business that are too small to obtain permits for tasting (although several are open only by appointment).
So how does one get to know the wines of the area? If you were in San Francisco on April 18, 2014, you might have done what we did—attend a Mt Veeder tasting at the Presidio Golden Gate Club. It makes it much easier to taste wines from 20 of the wineries—of which only 3 allowed tastings at their locations. And what impressive wines they were.
As mentioned, the area is mostly known for its Cabernet Sauvignons. While we enjoyed many of the other varietals, the cabs ended up being our favorites. Each one was unique due to the various microclimates. But we found few that we would want to have again….and again…and again….well, you get it. Now if only we could afford to drink them more often, but that’s another story that is not unique to Mt. Veeder. Our favorites? Wow, that’s hard. Kind of like asking a parent to name their favorite child. But the ones that stood out for our palates were (in order of pricing):
- Progeny 2007 Special Selection Reserve Cab ($150/bottle) Fig and ripe black fruit flavors, with an aromas of dried blueberries, black currant, and tobacco
- Lampyridae Vineyards’ 2110 Communication Block Cab ($100). Big, chocolately wine with blackberry, black currant on the palate and a wonderful toffee aroma and soft tannins.
- Mt. Brave’s 2010 Cab ($75) a nicely balanced wine with blackberry and black currant flavor
- The Hess Collection 2010 Mt. Veeder Cab ($55), a more affordable wine that delivered bright cherry and blackberry on the nose, cherry and hints of vanilla flavor and soft tannins
But that doesn’t mean the others were slackers either. And of course, everyone’s palate is different. What we like may not be what you like.
We also found interesting syrahs (Lampyridae Vineyards 2010 Communication Block Red Wine, $50) and zins (Lagier Meredith 2012 Tribidrag, $45).
Even better, most of the people pouring the wine were the owners or winemakers. It’s always nice to talk to them versus a sales rep. And the smaller venue doesn’t overwhelm you (and, as a bonus, doesn’t draw in the hords of people looking to get drunk as do the larger events). This could end up being one of my newest favorite tasting events.