It’s all about location, location, location for this diverse mountain AVA
Welcome to our second AVA Spotlight. This is a new series that will focus on different American Viticultural Areas including history, wineries, climate, soil, and other interesting facts. Here we bring you the Mount Veeder AVA.
Due west of the city of Napa lies the southern portion of the Mayacamas Mountains that separates the Sonoma and Napa valleys. It’s high point is Mount Veeder which rises 2,700 feet above the valley floor.
Born of an ancient sea bed, the mountain AVA has a distinct mix of shallow volcanic and sedimentary soil that retains very little water. It is this soil plus the elevated rugged slopes of the vineyards that produces the small concentrated grapes typical of Napa’s mountain regions.
To the south, the strong influence of San Pablo Bay allows varietals such as Syrah and even Chardonnay to thrive. The center and North is exceptional Bordeaux varietal country producing stunning Cabernet, Malbec, and Cab. Franc.
Although the AVA did not receive its official designation until 1993, the mountain has a rich history in viticulture. The mountain was named after German born Pastor Peter Veeder, a Napa resident during the Civil War, who enjoyed hiking on the mountain as it reminded him of the mountain forests back home. Other German born wine enthusiasts played an enormous role in the early days of Mount Veeder viticulture and were likewise privy to the mountain’s forested slopes and fresh mountain air.
Known primarily as a resort area the “Napa Redwoods” as it was called back then was not the most obvious place to grow grapes. Herman Hudeman owned around 2.500 acres and established a popular resort, a place of comfort and relaxation, for the wealthy. He did have a small winery and some vineyards that would later be acquired by Robert Jordan.
The first recorded wine sourced from Mount Veeder debuted at the Napa County Fair in 1864 by Captain Stellham Wing but it wasn’t until the 1880′s when two German born wine makers Ernest Streich and John Henry Fisher established the Striech and Fisher wineries. The Fisher Winery eventually passed through several hands before becoming the Mayacamas Winery in 1941 under the stewardship of Jack and Mary Taylor. By the 1890′s there were 20 vineyards and 6 wineries producing from the slopes of the mountain. Another German born man Theodore Gier established his winery in 1903 by buying the old Hudeman property. Gier originally came into the wine business as a retailer in Oakland but soon established vineyards in the Livermore Valley producing the then popular Sautern wines. Gier kept his Livermore operation but begain making Claret and Rieslings on Mount Veeder. Indeed, many of the early German wine makers found Veeder’s climate and soil ideal for Riesling. It was not until later that Gier and others discovered how great the Clarets could be. Gier’s Clarets, known as the “Sequoia Vintages” were a huge hit and had a big role in the early Napa wine scene. Mount Veeder wineries continued solid production and rave reviews until prohibition.
When the country went dry in 1920 so did production on Mount Veeder. That is except for the ever flamboyant Theodore Gier who ran afoul of authorities for breaking dry laws on numerous occasions. Gier was truly the first maverick on Mount Veeder. His post vintage parties were legendary and he regularly hosted friends, business associates, and politicians at his Veeder estate. He frequently wore colorful uniforms and at one point was appointed a Lt. Colonel of the Governor’s Militia staff. This despite his near arrest for singing Hoch Der Kaiser with some fellow German buddies as WW I broke out. In a region known for characters, Gier was its first and perhaps most noted. Gier sold his property in 1930 just a year before his death to what would become the Christian Brothers Mt. La Salle Estate which is now the present home of DdV favorite The Hess Collection.
The post prohibition renascence began in earnest in 1951 when Mayacamas Vineyards planted Bordeaux varietals on the mountain followed by the Bernsteins in 1964. The Bernsteins 1973 vintage Cabernet was the first to have the Mount Veeder designation on the bottle. One Bordeaux varietal Petit Verdot was introduced for the first time in California in 1975 by the Bernsteins and was part of the first true Bordeaux blend style wine ever produced from a California vintner. Almost all vines of Petit Verdot in California originated from cuttings from the Bernstein’s vineyard.
In 1978 Donald Hess purchased his Mount Veeder property and began the creation of the mountains most famous winery. Today Hess wines can be found world-wide and have received much acclaim both for quality and value as have many of the wines sourced from the mountain. From the 1980’s to the present Mount Veeder has gained an enviable reputation for outstanding wines including mountain wine legend Robert Craig (who started his wine career at Hess).
The mountain was granted AVA status in 1993 and now boasts roughly 1,000 acres under vine from the lowlands along Dry Creek Road up to 2.400 feet at Mayacamas Vineyard. There are now 37 member wineries and 8 growers on the mountain.
Topography, Climate, and Soil
Of all the Napa AVAs, Mount Veeder is clearly the most diverse. This is primarily due to the myriad of environmental conditions found on the slopes and valleys of the mountain. It is this diversity that allows a large number of varietals to thrive within a stones throw of each other. Noted Veeder winemaker Carole Meredith was quoted as saying “if your vines are not doing well where they’re at, move them over 5 feet”. There is no other place in Napa where you can grow Cabernet, Chardonnay, Mondeuse, and Albarino on the same property. You can on Mount Veeder. Let’s take a closer look at the magic of this mountain.
Mount Veeder has the coolest climate of any AVA in Napa. With average mean temperatures that rarely exceed 83 degrees (see map above), varietals that could not thrive on other mountain AVAs do so here. Chardonnay, Albarino, Sauv. Blanc and yes even a Pinot continue to impress vintage after vintage. Cool breezes from San Pablo Bay rush in from the South creating a climate that is 15 degrees cooler than the valley below. Temperature swings are minimal each day. These cooler temperatures allow for a much later harvest than other AVAs which significantly contributes to the concentrated flavors and fine feathery tannins of the wines produced here.
Soil and Terrain
Soils on the mountain consist of sandstone and shale that were derived from an ancient uplifted sea bed. This unique soil composition known as the “Great Valley Sequence” is also a prime contributor to the intense flavor profiles and tannin structures of the wines produced here. This soil has exceptional drainage with slopes ranging from 10 to 30 degrees. The topsoil is very shallow ranging from 12 to 24 inches. This terrain thus dramatically limits nutrients to the vines and creates stress conditions that produce small but intensely flavored berries.
The End Result
Wines here a truly like no other. We here at DdV have had many friendly arguments on the best AVAs especially our favorites: the mountain AVAs. Over at Robert Craig, that same discussion is ongoing. We asked Bob Craig which was his favorite as he makes exceptional wines from the Howell, Spring, and Veeder AVAs, as well as a Mt. George offering. He felt that Veeder was clearly the best and we’re not ones to argue. The tannins (fine, and feathery) are like no other. The reds have robust richness and great intensity but are so clean and smooth yet exceptionally age worthy. The whites have that same richness with lush floral aromatics and crisp minerality. While the styles of wine making differ, the magic Veeder profile is found throughout.
Tasting and Tasting Events
Only few wineries offer tasting and most are by appointment except for The Hess Collection. Click through to the Mount Veeder AVA website for information on tasting opportunities. The AVA does host several tasting events each year one in September and one in or around April. See the bottom of this section for some of our reviews of these events.
The next tasting event is in only a few weeks and tickets are still available. We can’t recommend this event more highly. This is your chance to sample these amazing wines that are not always available to the public to taste. For ticket info go to the Mount Veeder AVA website by clicking here: Mount Veeder AVA
For More Information
You can find plenty of info on their site: Mount Veeder AVA