A Great Day of Wine, Music and Food

Within view of Napa’s most prominent peak, The Atlas Peak Appellation Association put on their 2012 Harvest Celebration at V Wine Cellar in beautiful Yountville. The event was highlighted by tastings from 7 of the appellation’s small production wineries, great small bites, and terrific music.

All seven wineries pouring at the event are small production family owned producers who source a great deal of their harvest to other wineries. The fruit they keep for themselves however is stellar judging by end result we tasted at the event. Many of the folks pouring were in fact the owners of the labels which is a real treat as we can learn a great deal about their vineyards and wine making process. Even those that were not owners, such as the terrific folks representing Krupp Brothers Winery,  were extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the wines they were pouring. We just can’t say enough about the delightful tasting experience found with the smaller producers. As we stated in our last piece about essential places to taste in Napa, there is no better tasting experience than that of the small mountain producers. They truly do make you feel like part of the family.

While these wineries are not huge names to the average consumer, the fruit from the Atlas Peak Appellation has, in recent years, begun to make a pretty big splash in the premium wine segment. Wines produced by Au Sommet, Conn Creek, Stag’s Leap, Duckhorn and Kendall-Jackson have all received huge scores of late. Even Yao Ming’s first vintage which scored a 97 from WE is sourced primarily from Atlas Peak.

What makes these wines so great? Let’s take a closer look:

The Atlas Peak AVA

Rising up to 2,663 feet just north-east of the city of Napa, Atlas Peak is more than just a beautiful sight from The Valley. The diverse flora and fauna, rich history, and unique soil and climate make it a true Napa gem.

The vineyards here rise up well over 2,000 feet and are predominantly west-facing thus allowing more sunlight exposure. This allows the porous volcanic soil the ability to quickly heat up during the day but also quickly cool when night approaches. Although the mountain vineyards are well above the fog layer, cool breezes do penetrate from San Pablo Bay to the south. This influence plus the high elevation can drop the night-time lows as much as 30 degrees from the day time temps.

The result of these temperature fluctuations and porous soils is smaller intensely concentrated fruit similar to that of the other mountain AVAs such as Howell Mountain but, due to the cooler climate, more subtle, delicate and less tannic. The cooler climate also allows varietals such as Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc to thrive. One vineyard on the mountain differs a bit from the rest. The Stagecoach vineyard’s Atlas Peak Region has significantly less marine influence than the rest of the mountain and has more shelter from the valley breezes. This allows for hotter temperatures perfect for bigger Syrah, Zinfandel, and mountain Cab. Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast recently posted an article on his blog proclaiming the virtues of wines sourced from Stagecoach stating “This Stagecoach Vineyard has entered my consciousness over the last several years as one of the most noteworthy in Napa Valley, which is to say in all of California.” You can read his full post here.

Aside from the uniquely ideal growing conditions, the AVA also has a rich history.  The story begins around 1875, when A.V. Evans built and named his legendary hotel, the Atlas Peak Resort. At that time, Atlas Peak and the nearby Soda Canyon and Foss Valley areas were  prestigious playgrounds for the rich and famous (think Martha’s Vineyard West) including U.S Presidents and prominent families from all over the state. Vineyards were first planted in the region in 1870, when James Reed Harris planted 1,000 vines on his ranch property located one mile southeast of Atlas Peak (now Elan Vineyards). Steady growth continued until prohibition. Although the vineyards wasted away in neglect, the mountain’s ideal growing conditions still produced other crops until it’s rebirth as a viticultural area in the 1940’s. Initially, the rebirth was devoted primarily to Zinfandel but soon added the standard Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet, Cab. Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Syrah and Chardonnay have also made promising gains.

With a bit of background in our pocket, let’s move on to the tasting!

The Fantastic Wines of Atlas Peak

The tasting event was hosted in Yountville by V Wine Cellar,  a very nice facility in the heart of downtown.

Atlas Peak as seen from the tasting

Each winery had a table to present their wines. Tasty cold cuts, cheeses, and breads were also on hand courtesy of Winery Chefs. There truly was not single dud presented. Each represented their respective terroir and all were very well crafted and nothing short of delicious. So without further ado, here’s some of our favorites.

Krupp Brothers Winery
For more info: http://www.kruppbrothers.com/

2008 Krupp Brothers Black Bart’s Bride
Blend: 70% Marsanne, 30% Viognier
Vineyard: Stagecoach
Price: $40.00

A slightly sweet white blend that has fantastic aroma and luxurious mouth feel. Taglio, spring flowers, and honey on the nose lead to bright peach, subtle citrus, vanilla and a hint of oak on the finish. A refreshing and satisfying summer drinker. Try this with some lemon pepper grilled halibut or grilled tuna with wasabi and ginger.

2008 Krupp Brothers Black Bart Syrah
Blend: 98% Syrah 2% Viognier
Vineyard: Stagecoach
Price: $40.00

Even in the dimly lit tasting room, the color of this wine was impressive. The nose won me over immediately. Mmmm bacon!.  This is only the second wine that had this quality (the Plumpjack being the other) and it is engaging along with the nice floral and pepper notes. Dark mountain huckleberry and raspberry burst out on the mid palate with a nice long finish of oak and hints of pepper and spice. A truly unique Syrah and is a new favorite.

2007 Krupp Brothers Verasion Cabernet Sauvignon
75% Cabernet Sauvignon
14% Cabernet Franc
4% Malbec
4% Merlot
3% Petit Verdot
Vineyard: Stagecoach
Price: $66.00

Very smooth and elegant wine but with plenty of the big flavors found in mountain wines. On the nose, dark mountain currant, italian roast coffee, and tobacco abound. Rich silky dark berry flavors greet on the mid with a long lush finish of graphite and hints of herbal spice. Another favorite and a very friendly price point for a wine this polished.

2007 Krupp Brothers Merlot
75% Merlot
13% Petit Verdot
10% Cabernet Sauvignon
2% Cabernet Franc
Vineyard: Stagecoach
Price: $70.00

This exceptional Merlot was the star of the show for us. Unlike the weeny in Sideways, we here at DdV DRINK THE MERLOT!! This one, folks, is the one to drink. Exceptional clarity, balance, and elegance. Bright oakey currant and chocolate notes on the nose lead to rich plum, berry and currant on the mid. The finish is so smooth and elegant it almost defies description. A masterpiece of the highest order.

Ardente Estate Winery
For more info: http://www.ardentewinery.com/

2001 Ardente Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Blend: 94% Cabernet, 6% Merlot
Vineyard: Ardente Estate
Price: $42.00

Proprietors Carlo and Marie Francoise Di Ruocco founded Ardente Estate in 1992 after retiring from the coffee roasting business. With one taste of their wines you can quickly tell this is a labor of love. The 2001 is a rich smooth complex wine more closely related to a Bordeaux than a Napa mountain wine yet still has the big bold stature we love. Rich ripe currant, cocoa, and spice on the nose leads gracefully into dark plum and dark berry on the mid. The finish is very smooth with hints of mineral and chocolate. The 2005 is also fantastic!

Antica Winery
For more info: https://www.anticanapavalley.com/

2010 Antica Chardonnay
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Vineyard: Estate
Price: $35.00

A mountain Chardonnay? Yes! Wonderful crisp refreshing Chard with very nice balance and complexity. Bright peach, apple and pear abound with a nice fresh finish with hints of citrus and apricot. Just the right amount of oak to give more complexity.

2009 Antica Cabernet Sauvignon
Blend: 100% Cabernet
Vineyard: Estate
Price: $55.00

Of all of the Cabs here, this is the most Bordeaux-like. A slightly sweeter overall feel similar to those sourced from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma. Great balance and elegant mouth feel make this a very food friendly Cab. Try this with grilled steaks or hearty stews.

Lobo Wines
For more info: http://www.lobowines.com

2010 Lobo Chardonnay
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Vineyard: Estate – Oak Knoll
Price: $42.00

Our favorite Chard of the tasting and that is saying something. Crafted by noted winemaker Randy Lewis, this Chard is nothing short of spectacular. Wonderful hints of mango and citrus on the nose and a beautiful golden color lead to rich citrus and bright green apple on the mid. A satisfying finish with just the right hit of vanilla and oak. This would be your go to wine for grilled chicken or pork chops (try them with some lemon/lime garlic baste).

2009 Lobo Cabernet Sauvignon
Blend: 100% Cabernet
Vineyard: Estate – Oak Knoll
Price: $52.00

A wonderful Cab. Rising star winemaker Victoria Coleman crafted a very rich and elegant wine. Dark huckleberry and floral notes on the nose lead to more dark berry on the mid. Great balance. Finish is plenty long with more dark berry, oak, and hints of cocoa and espresso. A great deal for the price point. They only made 100 cases so get on it before it’s gone.

Lobo also had a fantastic Pinot sourced from their Oak Knoll vineyard. I was skeptical going in but found it to be amazing!

VinRoc Wine Caves
For more information: http://www.vinrocnapa.com/

VinRoc 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
Blend: %100 Cabernet
Vineyard: Estate
Price: $90.00

This was the biggest, boldest Cab of the bunch. Big brambly mountain tannins but with a nice balance. For us, this was great now but will also cellar very nicely. Big fruit, nice oak, and finishes long. If you love your mountain wines, this is right up your alley.

Astrale e Terra Vineyards
For more information: http://www.astraleeterra.com/

Astrale has several notable offerings both coming from the Syrah varietal. Their 2011 Syrah Rose was nothing short of fabulous. Chalk up another Cali Rose that can stay with anything from France. Their 2007 Estate Syrah was also fantastic.

The Music

Once again Sam Peters has hit a home run with the music. As you recall, we loved the blues band (The Hummingbirdz) he booked for the Howell Mountain Benefit. This time he had two exceptional flamenco/latin jazz guitar players!

Farsheed Etniko is a noted latin jazz / fusion player who has played with or opened up for the likes of Carlos Santanna and Taj Mahal.  Joining him was Jeff Hughes who came to latin jazz fusion by way of guitar heavy country music (Jeff was kind enough between songs to give us a chicken picken demo). Both were amazing musicians and played a number of different styles including a knock out latin style rendition of Dave Brubecks’s Take 5.

We very much hope to see them again.

For more info: http://farshidetniko.com

In Conclusion

This was a fantastic event that we really didn’t want to end. Once again, Sam Peters created a terrific experience for both the wineries and patrons to share their love of wine and to introduce the Atlas Peak terroir. For the evenings dinner, we grabbed a nice T-Bone steak, grilled it over cherry wood and enjoyed it with one of the fantastic Atlas Peak Cabs we picked up on the way out (not telling which one, don’t want to play favorites!). While feasting, we enjoyed Farsheed’s CD and couldn’t help feeling that this was a wonderful day.